There’s just something about epic disaster movies, it seems, that brings out the worst in everyone. Volcano, Armageddon, Twister… A cheesy script, hammy acting, overblown direction, and slip-shod editing all must be requirements whenever thousands of people meet their simultaneous doom onscreen.

Add Pompeii to that list.

In fact, throw it right to the top of that list.

The latest from director Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil series) is an exercise in futility, and not just on the part of the Pompeiians (Pompeiites?) who couldn’t outrun the 20-foot wall of volcanic ash that steamrolled over them back in 79 A.D.

Frankly, there’s not much that works here. Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) stars as Milo, a quiet but fierce slave who spends most of the movie brooding– when he’s not single-handedly taking down entire platoons of soldiers (which happens more frequently than you’d expect). When he’s taken to Pompeii to be a gladiator, he naturally crosses paths with Senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland), the brutish general who slaughtered Milo’s family some 17 years earlier.

In Pompeii Milo naturally also crosses paths with the lovely Cassia (Emily Browning), the princess with a heart of gold. He’s a commoner, she’s a richie– but somehow their love transcends the moment, even as a wealthy and powerful rogue tries to steal her for himself while impending doom is all around them. Sound familiar? (*cough* Titanic).

The ridiculous script is a testament to the fact that anyone (and I mean anyone) can apparently get a film made in Hollywood. Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler, whom you would have thought would have been run out of town on a rail after coming up with 1995’s idiotic Batman Forever (you know, the one with Val Kilmer), have cobbled together a goofy story that borrows early and often from pretty much every bad disaster flick ever made. How co-writer Michael Robert Johnson (Sherlock Holmes) also found his name on this thing is a mystery.

And then there’s Mr. Anderson. While much of his Resident Evil series was actually fairly enjoyable, due in large part to his slick direction, he fails particularly miserably here. After taking more than an hour to actually get to the meat of the movie, he can’t seem to make up his mind if the volcano is erupting or not. In one part of town, fireballs are raining down, buildings are collapsing, and general hell is breaking loose, while one street over we find our heroes enjoying a tender moment in absolute silence. And back and forth it goes. For the better part of a half-hour.

If for some reason you decide to sit all the way to the end of Pompeii, there’s no silver lining here. In fact, you’re rewarded with what is nothing less than the most laughable closing shot in cinema. Ever.

Talk about a disaster.

1/5 stars