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Susan Granger's review of 'Hercules'

Published 3:57 pm, Friday, August 15, 2014
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Sword-and-sandal is a genre unto itself. Often set in classic Greco-Roman or biblical history, it generally features a simplistic plot with a muscle-man hero. Its appeal is primitive. The men are bare-chested, the women are curvaceous and the villains are scheming royals/aristocrats. There's lots of physical combat, although the action can border on silliness and camp.

A series of 19 movies about Hercules were made in Italy in the late 1950s and early `60s, following Steve Reeves' highly successful "Hercules" (1957). The demigod has been played by Gordon Scott, Kirk Morris, Mickey Hargitay (Jayne Mansfield's husband), Mark Forest, Alan Steel, Dan Vadis, Brad Harris, Reg Park, Peter Lupus (aka Rock Stevens), Mike Lane -- and now Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

In this revisionist version, Hercules is a restless mercenary whose devoted nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) serves as his myth maker, weaving stories to enhance his image and reputation as the son of Zeus, who impregnated the mortal Alcmene, rousing the understandable ire of his goddess wife Hera.

Hercules' crew also includes the droll soothsayer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal who resembles a sturdy Nicole Kidman), and shell-shocked, feral mute, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie).

Responding to a plea from lovely Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), daughter of Lord Cotys (John Hurt), they journey to Thrace, where they're greeted by treacherous King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes), who wants them to train his troops to fight an army of demons.

Based on Steve Moore's comic books, adapted by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and directed by Brett Ratner ("X-Men: The Last Stand"), it slogs along, punctuated by impressive, computer-enhanced battle scenes and a few memorable moments -- like when Hercules, wearing the vanquished Nemean lion's head as a helmet, picks up a horse and rider, hurling them to the ground.

If you're willing to spring

for the 3D surcharge, the military formations are impressive as spears come whizzing by

you.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hercules" is a frenetic, fitfully fun 4, a popcorn picture that becomes a tongue-in-cheek tussle.