There are two kinds of people who might love “The Last Legion”: People who know nothing about ancient history, and people who know nothing about filmmaking. I assume the movie’s director and writers fall under both categories.
Set in A.D. 460, just as Rome is falling, “The Last Legion” feels like one of those straight-to-DVD movies made to capitalize on a current popular trend. While it doesn’t resemble any specific movie in particular, it certainly feels ripped off from “Lord of the Rings” and any number of sword-and-sandal epics. Its earnest cheesiness destines it for Saturday afternoon showings on your local CW-affiliated TV station.
It stars Colin Firth, of course, because who else would you cast as your swashbuckling Roman action hero but Mr. Darcy? Firth plays Aurelius, a military commander who is led to understand that a young boy named Romulus (Thomas Sangster) is a blood descendant of Caesar and thus rightful ruler of the Empire. The evil Goth invader Odoacer (Peter Mullan), having forcefully taken command of Rome, would just as soon kill anyone claiming to be Caesar’s heir, so Aurelius and his loyal men rescue the lad and whisk him out of the country.
That’s not all they take, though. Along for the ride is Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), the elderly, magic-practicing caretaker of young Romulus, as well as a sword that he helped Romulus find. This sword was supposedly made for the Caesars, and it has a prophecy on it, and only the rightful heir can wield it, and yada yada. You know the drill.
The plan is to head up to Britannia, where Rome’s Ninth Legion has been stationed for some time, and get support for going back and reclaiming Rome. Unfortunately, they get there to find that the legion was decimated by the barbaric ruler Vortgyn, and that the few survivors now live as simple farmers. Vortgyn, who wears a hilarious Mardi Gras-style mask all the time, learns of the boy and the sword and the prophecy, and that means I smell a battle on the horizon!
This is the theatrical feature debut of director Doug Lefler, whose TV credits include episodes of “Hercules” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” He did a direct-to-video “Dragonheart” sequel, too. “The Last Legion” fits in that loincloth-and-archery mindset; what’s surprising is that, despite all the prior experience, Lefler is so inept at directing fight scenes. The ones here are badly staged and amateurishly shot and edited, with decidedly non-thrilling feats of bravery enacted by unenthusiastic stuntmen.
Oh, and for some reason, there is a girl: Mira (Aishwarya Rai), a Turkish soldier committed to helping Aurelius. She is a formidable warrior herself and soon convinces everyone of her might. But really, all she wants is for Aurelius to like her, ’cause he’s so cute and stuff. Aurelius remains somewhat aloof, however, as he is played by Colin Firth, and “somewhat aloof” is what Colin Firth does best.
And yet, just as with “Skinwalkers” last week, there is no reason to hate “The Last Legion.” It’s dumb, it’s cheap, the CGI is laughable, the dialogue is wooden, and the story — with its eventual ties to the King Arthur legend — is ludicrous. But as long as it’s not aggressively, in-your-face bad or actively annoying, I can tolerate a movie like this. Five years from now, when I see it playing on a Saturday afternoon on my local CW-affilate TV station … well, I probably still won’t watch it. But I will at least smile as I recall its harmless idiocy, in much the same way that one smiles at retarded people one passes on the street.
C (1 hr., 42 min.; )