Director Wolfgang Petersen's swords-and-sandals epic expends a lot of energy convincing us that its every plot point is suffused with legendary import, even as it's busily reconfiguring those same developments as matinee melodrama. Clashing armies call each other out with playground taunts; enemies are felled with flying assaults shown in post-"Matrix" slow motion; doomed cousins utter variations on the phrase "I love you, man"; and those pesky ol' women keep complicating everything. (We even get to see Helen of Troy's ass.) For two hours and 45 minutes, the movie plays like an ersatz "Gladiator" that's aimed even more squarely at the frat-boy audience. Makes sense to us: It's called the Greek system for a reason, right? To be fair, the project occasionally revs up to a certain campy velocity; any picture that has Brian Cox, Peter O'Toole and Brendan Gleeson parading around in the best of the JC Penney Homerian Collection can't help but be a hoot on some level. But their expertly hammy work is undercut whenever Brad Pitt enters the scene in his leading role as Rush Chairman Achilles. Conveying even the character's simplistic on-screen identity -- which invites the use of such bargain-rental terms as "loose cannon" and "killing machine" -- is beyond the capabilities of the incompetent Pitt, who feigns gravity by overenunciating his consonants, casting lots of "challenging" stares and flaring his nostrils in supposed emulation of a jungle cat about to strike. Lippy the Lion is one that comes immediately to mind.
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