“The Last Legion” fails as epic, succeeds as absurdity

With such a stellar cast involved in “The Last Legion,” one might think this film should be the next successful epic to hit the big screen, but it isn’t. There’s a reason the studios did not advertise this film as much as others: They knew it was going to tank at the box office because it’s a stinker.

The main character is a young Roman ruler-to-be played by Thomas Sangster (“Love Actually,” “Nanny McPhee”). As soon as the boy is crowned emperor, Rome is seized by Goths, and he is taken prisoner. It is up to his guard (Colin Firth, “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “Love Actually”) to rescue him and take him into hiding.

Along the way, the young emperor finds a sword of great power, a female Turkish warrior (Aishwarya Rai, “Bride and Prejudice,” “The Mistress of Spices”) joins the group, and they are all double-crossed and become exiles.

The film simply tries to do too much. It’s obvious that under all the dreck, there was probably an original idea in there somewhere that was quite good. Perhaps it was rewritten to death, but the end result is nothing short of tragic – and not in a good way.

Despite the fancy film work at the beginning of the movie (overlaid shots fading into each other repeatedly), the audience knew within the first few minutes that the script was going to be crap. It took itself too seriously while being poorly written and gimmicky.

The dialogue is stilted and serves only to convey plot points or to set up the next scene. There is no flow from one sentence to the other, and some of the lines are so cheesy audience members were laughing at the screen.

It is clich?d and easy to predict, right up until the ending, which ties into the King Arthur legend with the emperor’s tutor played by Ben Kingsley (“House of Sand and Fog,” “Schindler’s List”).

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But the blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of the script.

Colin Firth is too forceful when he tries to inspire his troops, and Ben Kingsley is gregarious. Aishwarya Rai is forced to continually strike poses, and Thomas Sangster, a promising young actor, is left staring not-so-meaningfully at everything.

When such brilliant actors turn in such abysmal performances, the blame can only be laid at the feet of the director: Doug Lefler (“Dragonheart: A New Beginning,” “Hercules: the Legendary Journeys”). Given his limited track record of bad science fiction films or campy television episodes, this should come as no surprise.

Gorgeous locales are not fully utilized, costumes are cheap and chintzy, historical inaccuracies are abundant, and the entire film looks as if it should have been made as a bad television movie.

Not to mention, the audience is constantly bombarded with the soaring soundtrack in scenes they are supposed to understand as having great meaning or emotional power from the music alone when the script fails to convey the point.

The whole film goes from bad to worse, and by the end, the entire theater was snickering at the lines and images on the screen. If this is to be watched at all, it should only be as a rental.