In the latest issue of Kinema Junpo, Japan’s most venerable film magazine, you can read a lengthy tribute to Gaga, the dogged independent movie distributor that’s marking its 30th anniversary this year. The occasion is certainly worth commemorating: This is the company that released “Seven,” “Talk to Her,” “The Artist” and “12 Years a Slave” in Japan, not to mention all of Hirokazu Koreeda’s recent films. In a movie market strewn with casualties, it’s a genuine survivor.
Alas, the film splashed across Kinema Junpo’s front cover hails from an altogether less exalted pedigree. Gaga may be synonymous with prestigious Oscar bait, but it is also the distributor of C-grade schlock, such as “Pompei,” “Last Knights” and now, just in time to piddle in the birthday punch, “Gods of Egypt.”
Even judged against the cruddiest offerings from the Gaga back catalog, this would-be blockbuster from Alex Proyas — whose name should probably be preceded with the title “former visionary director” — is spectacularly shoddy. Set in an Ancient Egypt populated mostly by Caucasian actors, who deliver their lines in crisp English accents worthy of a village amateur theater production, it seems intent on evoking the cheesy thrills of the sword-and- sandal movies that Italy used to churn out in the 1960s.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||127 mins|
That’s a pretty low bar, yet “Gods of Egypt” still struggles to clear it.
In this (very) loose retelling of a famous story from Egyptian mythology, the god-king Osiris is killed by his brother, Set (Gerard Butler), just as he’s about to transfer the crown to his son, Horus (“Game of Thrones” regular Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). The evil Set allows his nephew to live, but gouges out his eyes, usurps his throne and steals his lover — just for good measure.
A year later, Horus sets out to get his revenge, aided by a plucky mortal, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who’s looking to rescue his recently deceased girlfriend from the Underworld.
The script comes courtesy of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless — the screenwriting duo behind “Dracula Untold” and “The Last Witch Hunter” — who clearly have a talent for making mulch from myths. I can only assume they penned the screenplay during a drinking binge after spending a few minutes browsing the Egyptology pages on Wikipedia, though the reality was doubtless much more prosaic.
The action is peppered with cute one-liners that acknowledge the story’s hokeyness without being witty enough to alleviate it. Coster-Waldau delivers these bon mots with a weariness that’s probably genuine, but some of the cast actually appear to be having fun. Thwaites is almost infuriatingly chipper throughout, while Butler chews through the virtual scenery by essentially playing his character from “300” as a pantomime villain. (When a minion declares, “This is madness!” I desperately wanted him to reply: “Madness? This. Is. Egypt!”)
The whole thing looks like it has been shot against green screens, although it’s a mystery what happened to the movie’s reported $140 million budget. The CGI effects vacillate in quality from ho-hum to horrendous. Each time the titular gods transformed into a stew of badly rendered polygons in preparation for a fight, I found myself emitting a stupefied giggle that was part embarrassment, part childish delight. This is pinch-yourself cinema — it’s something to savor.
With big-budget Hollywood pictures increasingly content to settle for aggressively focus-grouped mediocrity, it’s almost refreshing to come across a movie as odiferous as “Gods of Egypt.” It’s surprising, too. When international box-office hits like “Spy” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” are going straight to DVD or Netflix in Japan, how does a turkey like this manage to secure a theatrical release?
Even the widely derided “Suicide Squad,” which opens in Japan the day after “Gods of Egypt,” looks like highly competent filmmaking in comparison. But I know which one I enjoyed more.
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