Hercules delivers musclebound heroics

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Starring Dwayne Johnson and John Hurt. Rated 14A.

Hercules has come a long way since the days when muscleman Steve Reeves used to lift papier-mâché boulders over his head. In this latest version, flaming spears fly from the screen in 3-D and Dwayne Johnson’s pecs are so ominous that they threaten to poke you in the eye.

It’s all pretty cheesy. But then that’s pretty much the point in any version of Hercules. This one’s no different. Johnson, known as the Rock in his wrestling days, has a flowing wig and a club that might remind you of an overgrown version of Bamm-Bamm on The Flintstones. Even his body armour looks like it’s been cut for a day at the beach.

We’re supposed to be in ancient Greece. But it’s clear that director Brett Ratner is going for a postmodern feel. For every stately woman in a toga dress, we get a line like: “That’s a load of crap!” So if you’re expecting Greek tragedy on steroids, think again. Johnson gets by on an abundance of oily charm. But with the exception of John Hurt—pulling out all the stops as a power-hungry king—this version is low on class and big on trash. What do we need to know about the story? Not much. Hercules and his small band of loyal warriors are mercenaries who’ll take on any job for their fair share of gold.

There’s a twist, of course. But it’s all basically an excuse to marvel at the tacky things that have made Hercules the virtual king of remakes. What do we want? Feats of strength, baby. What else do we want? Battle scenes with lots of swordplay and runaway chariots. Ratner delivers both of these elements in heavy doses. It’s almost enough to make us forget that the script rips off everything from Gladiator to The Magnificent Seven.

The supporting cast includes dry comic relief from Ian McShane as a prophet who keeps predicting his own demise. But everyone else stands in the shadow of the Rock, who gets to bust out of chains proclaiming: “I am Hercules!” What more could you ask?

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