Studio Home Entertainment // 2001 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Deren Ney (Retired) // April 12th, 2002
"When victory is the only road to freedom."
This movie answers the question, "Why don't they make movies about Caesar's era that AREN'T epic?" Boasting a production design worthy of Don Lapre, Amazons and Gladiators limps into the arena of Roman-era films. It is the first film to make me think, "Eric Roberts could really elevate this material." The plot is tired, the costumes and sets look like contributions from a community playhouse, and the acting is as authentic as Creed. Yet, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some kind of thrill to watching the whole mess go down. This isn't exactly like rubbernecking at a car crash; it's more like a very bad oral report where you know the kid's presentation materials were culled that morning once he found out the report was due. I can't begrudge those involved for doing what they could with what they had, but I also reserve the right to judge them from my ivory tower and proclaim that the final product sucks foot.
During the Roman Empire, General Crassius (Sleeping with the Enemy's Patrick Bergin) was given rule of a remote village by Caesar to keep Crassius out of Rome. Crassius is a tyrant who delights in torturing his townspeople, and one day he murders the mother of sisters Serena and Gwyned. Though we are given only a small amount of character background here, Serena is some kind of young warrior and Gwyned is some kind of town skank. Serena is sold into slavery and Gwyned becomes one of Crassius' personal love slaves. Ten years later, a Playboy-worthy Serena escapes slavery and joins the Amazon Warrior women who, despite being progressive feminists, wear revealing, formfitting clothing. Serena's path leads her back to Crassius as a Gladiator, where she plans to exact her revenge. In other words, it's Gladiator: Warrior Princess
It's obviously impossible to not mention Gladiator when discussing this movie, because Amazons and Gladiators consistently apes that far superior film. Sure, the genre has inherent trappings: swords, sandals, latent homo-eroticism. But Amazons and Gladiators is a downright rip-off of Gladiator in a way too distracting not to notice. I wish smaller production companies would make films within their means that explored character, dialogue, and all the other elements of film that modern Hollywood seems disinterested with, instead of doing cheap retreads of movies that only worked in the first place because of their huge budgets. There's a trailer for the Lions Gate film O on this disc, an update of Shakespeare's Othello. It made me think how Amazons and Gladiators is the inverse of that movie. Where O spends about $12.50 retelling a classic story, Amazons and Gladiators spends the same $12.50 without all that "quality story" baggage to weigh it down. It's a waste to attempt something like this if it's not going to be visually engaging. If you found those cheesy blue shots of ancient Rome in Gladiator took you out of the reality of the film, wait until you see the "battle arena."
Patrick Bergin's bloated presence recalls Russell Crowe -- in The Insider (and that's only because of the pudge). Here, he is doing sniff acting, where the expression on his face seems derived from whatever smell he imagines sniffing. A satisfied smirk when something smells good, or a grimace when something smells like the script. And hell, I will just say it, judging by his choice of this role, the acting he displays, and his penchant for pursing his lip seemingly at random, I have to assume this is a man who has seen the losing end of a drug problem. I know, not nice, but this is a natural reaction to seeing him in this movie. I got uncomfortable watching it for that very reason: I can't help but wonder how a project with so much stank on it could attract anyone who had even remotely been connected with a decent movie (and you have to trace Bergin back to Patriot Games to give him that distinction). I half expected Tonya Harding to show up as one of the Amazon women. Apparently she opted for class instead and did Fox's Celebrity Boxing. It's a good thing she avoided this movie, or we wouldn't be able to take her seriously anymore. Bergin stayed aboard however, and I just hope he did so because he lost a bet or went through the wringer in a divorce, and not because he actually believed this could end up as anything but a steaming pile.
The subplot with the Amazons is truly terrible. The village resembles Endor, but somehow the humans look more fake than Ewoks. The lead Amazonian looks like a poor man's Yancy Butler, and sadly, that's probably word for word what the director asked for. Some alleged martial arts star choreographs the fight scenes, but the most exciting part about the fight scenes was watching Serena's bosom swing. I feel sorry for the film's editors, because there are some scenes that feel as though they are holding on only due to some deft cutting. Watching this movie approximate Gladiator's jagged editing style was more uncomfortable than all the ADR overdubbing that seems to be done on every line. The production quality on the whole is relative. Compared to Gladiator, it's embarrassing, but compared to Office Space, it's really embarrassing, because I think Office Space had more visual flair.
The extras on this disc are on par with the quality of the production, which is to say nonexistent. There's a trailer and chapter selections, so you can peruse the portions of the film are sad and painful, as well as the ones that are merely sad. Some perfunctory background information on the era would have been nice, but it probably would have doubled the budget. If you are still awaiting reviews on the sound quality and technical aspects of the disc, then I guess I have been unclear: This movie is awful in all ways. Looks bad, sounds limp, run, run, run.
The one saving grace of this movie: Breasts. I don't mind pointing this out because their use is so gratuitous that if the producer is reading this he probably is excited that I mentioned it. Boobies are found all over the movie, and disproves once and for all the myth that silicone is a modern invention. (By the way, to the ladies out there -- it isn't my place to tell you what to do with your giggle bags, but implants just aren't good. It's like the CGI in Final Fantasy -- you can't say what's unrealistic about it, but something doesn't look right. If you need confidence, date an ugly man. But for the love of God, leave the headlights alone.) There's also a performance in this movie by a completely miscast lead who looks like her résumé includes exotic dancing, but I must admit that she had a certain screen presence beyond the two obvious ones. She reminded me a little of Robin Wright in The Princess Bride, and she is the one person who could possibly escape alive from the arena of bad moviemaking.
You know what? Go ahead, see this movie. Life is too short to shield yourself from all the puzzling crap out there. Witness a movie that manages to accomplish absolutely nothing that it could have intended. If you've ever enjoyed an awful late-night movie, test yourself with this.
I turn my thumb south and command the death of this limp offering.
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Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #39
Studio: Studio Home Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R