The saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover," goes both ways. Sometimes the most wonderful story is enclosed in a poor facade; conversely, a weak, unimaginative narrative can be dressed up in eye-catching packaging. "Pompeii" is much the latter.
This is one of those films that was built around a single not-entirely-terrible idea. The doomed city of Pompeii at the time of Mt. Vesuvius' eruption is a great setting and a good starting point. The key to making a film like this work is to have one or two additional strong ideas before you start adding filler, which "Pompeii" did not have.
The challenge of making a disaster movie is making the audience care about the characters or situation enough to fear for them. "Titanic" is the masterpiece it is for one simple reason: Every time I watch it, some little part of me forgets the ship is doomed.
Where "Titanic" masterfully made the story about its characters and then put them in an extraordinary situation, "Pompeii" made its story about its situation and then had to drop in Romeo and Juliet wannabes.
Furthermore, "Titanic" subtly, and infrequently, reminded the audience of the impending danger. "Pompeii" reminds us as often, annoyingly, and jarringly as a snooze function on an alarm clock.
I ended up liking "Pompeii" more than I thought I would and more than I should have. A big part of my affection is owed to "Lost" actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (who played Mr. Eko) and "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harrington. Neither of whom delivered overly praise-worthy performances, but they have just enough chemistry to preserve "Pompeii" for its eventual future on TBS/TNT.
Ultimately, "Pompeii" is like milk that's two or three days past its expiration date. It won't kill you, but it might leave a bad taste in your mouth.
3 of 6 stars
James Gerstner works at Fort Hays State University Foundation.