Credit where credit is due: The Asylum’s business model always fools me. Although the infamous studio continually releases stinker after stinker, I frequently come back for more, simply because they have a tendency to entice me with awesome plot set-ups. Alas, they also have a more notable tendency to fuck up awesome ideas, and here we are again with 2014’s Apocalypse Pompeii, a “mockbuster” which hopes to be confused with Paul W.S. Anderson’s big-budget Pompeii. High on concept but low on creativity and funds, the resultant picture is at least marginally better than crap like Sharknado, but it’s far from genuinely good. In fact, the whole thing is just so dreary and lacklustre that it’s hard to muster up any strong feelings towards it.
Set in present-day, former special ops soldier Jeff Pierce (Adrian Paul) travels to Naples, Italy for an important business meeting. Along for a holiday are his wife Lynne (Jhey Castles) and daughter Mykaela (Georgina Beedle), who’s an avid history buff with extensive knowledge about Pompeii and the eruption which buried the city hundreds of years ago. Jeff immediately feels that things are a bit off due to minor earth tremors, and his fears are confirmed when Mt. Vesuvius wakes up with a vengeance, spitting lava and flaming rocks all over the surrounding area. Unfortunately for Jeff, Lynne and Mykaela are stuck in Pompeii, prompting him to call upon his former job skills to rescue his family before the mountain wipes them out.
It’s hard to fault the basic idea, as Mt. Vesuvius is overdue for a massive eruption that would annihilate Naples and once again bury Pompeii. But there is a problem with setting such a story in 2014, as there are modern measures in place to monitor the mountain. Thus, if Vesuvius was to wake up, the public would get fair warning, and evacuations would commence before the eruption. Oh well, I guess Asylum writers can’t get everything right. Though, to be fair, they don’t really get much right – the sciencey stuff here is primary school level. Exacerbating the picture’s logical issues is the lack of tension throughout. Apocalypse Pompeii would have been better served as a survival disaster movie, but the military angle spoils this.
At the helm of Apocalypse Pompeii is Ben Demaree, making his feature-film debut as a director. But while this is his first directorial outing, Demaree has a long history with schlock – he was the cinematographer for Sharknado, for instance, and has crewed Asylum productions since 2006. To Demaree’s credit, this is probably one of the most competent efforts from The Asylum to date, with location filming adding an agreeable sense of authenticity to the production. Likewise, the digital effects are not too bad on the whole. In fact, some CGI looks borderline impressive, and only a handful of moments are phoney enough to take you out of the movie. Considering the usual standard for Asylum productions, this is a freaking miracle. What a shame, then, that the movie is kneecapped by its chintzy score and often flat-looking cinematography, revealing the low-budget origins with sharp precision.
Interestingly, Apocalypse Pompeii features John Rhys-Davies as a military corporal who knew Jeff back in his career heyday. Unfortunately, Rhys-Davies is on autopilot from start to finish, making him look just as untalented as his god-awful co-stars. Indeed, it would seem that casting agents for Asylum productions simply pull random people off the street and try to pass them off as real actors. Furthermore, Apocalypse Pompeii has its fair share of idiotic moments – for crying out loud, some of Jeff’s old army pals walk around carrying machine guns. Do they plan to shoot the mountain? Oh yeah, and of course Jeff gets paranoid before the eruption and gives satellite phones to his family, and of course they will come into play…even though everyone conveniently forgets about them until the very end. The picture’s finale is a pretty big waste of time, too, lathering on forced plot obstacles to wring every last bit of possible tension out of the story. Except there’s no tension, and these complications are just frustrating rather than nail-biting.
Perhaps the biggest sin of Apocalypse Pompeii is that it’s mostly boring. Aside from some halfway decent special effects, the movie is pretty dreary and uninteresting from a visual standpoint, and the actors can’t bring the drama to life in any convincing or engaging way. I miss the days when B-movies were produced as proper studio movies, with real budgets and actual actors. Remember Dante’s Peak and Volcano? Although Apocalypse Pompeii is slightly better than it could’ve been, it’s still another miss for The Asylum, which is disappointing but nevertheless unsurprising.