Gladiator

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By Mark Ramsey | 2000/05/02

What’s all this shmutz in the air? Russell Crowe is trying to wage war and the air is full of shmutz! They can take down Germania, but can the Roman Empire conquer hay fever?

Look out, Russell, there’s an animal sleeping on your shoulders and I think it’s cueing dialogue for Richard Harris, whose vine-ripe breath could level the enemy with one fermented blow.

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In Gladiator, Richard co-stars as Emperor Brewskius Guinness Inebrius Maximus. History tells us Richard’s the guy who put the “beer” in Tiberius and the “ale” in Auraleus. In days past, crew members lit a match to his breath to signal ships navigating around the Rock of Gibraltar. Only Richard has a watch which shows not the time but the vintage.

Pondering his legacy, Emperor Richard asks Russell “Will I be known as a philosopher or a tyrant?” Don’t forget scenery-chewing, Orca-slaughtering, hooch-master general, Richard!

Russell Crowe is the real star here and he shines supernova bright as General-cum-Gladiator Insiderus Oscarus Also-ranus. He’s the finest General in all of Ancient Rome – alternatively a fierce, brutal warrior and a meek, super-sensitive guy. I think Russell’s testosterone could use a dimmer switch.

Russell carries with him tiny clay figures of his family which he fondles and caresses because, back in the days before film, clay was the best Eastmanus Kodakus could do.

It’s high time for a new Roman epic! All I know of Gladiators is what I remember from that old episode of Star Trek with Captain Kirk in a Coliseum that looked suspiciously like a Desilu soundstage that might have been Floyd the Barber’s shop in a former life. Marvel as the roaring crowd of three spectators is rotated around the set! Thrill as Kirk wipes blood from what must be the most sensitive lip in the galaxy!

There are some wonderful major-league supporting performances in Gladiator. Look for Oliver Reed in his big screen swan song as the biggest swan on the big screen. He’s the Gladiator showman, Vince McMahonus Stoutus Corpulus. Sadly, we must now add: Sixfeetunderus.

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Joaquin Phoenix plays Emperor Imperious Odious Dorkus Maximus like the dandy-lad spawn of Freddie Bartholomew and Roddy McDowall. We know Joaquin is desperate to be loved because every line of dialogue reminds us – whether or not that line embraces Joaquin’s on-again/off-again Brit accent. Slave, get this guy a dog or a turtle or something. Alert Sally Field: This man needs to be loved!

My favorite character is the old guy with the Wizard of Oz eyebrows badly in need of a weed whacker. He dons a curly drag wig to introduce the Gladiators to the Coliseum throng. Paleontologist Richard Leakey has determined that all musical theater and several members of ‘N Sync are descended from this man.

Did you know that before thumbs up/thumbs down was a registered movie critic trademark, it was a fixture of the games? Thumbs down means Caesar says the Gladiator should die, and thumbs up means Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar just took a shit.

It’s a rule-of-thumb in the movies that audiences like to see either something exactly like they’ve seen before (read: sequel) or something completely different. Gladiator is something different – fresh from head to toe. Even the EFX are splendid and – please note, George Lucas – in service to a story rather than a substitute for one.

I hate to say it, but much of what makes this movie so much fun is exactly what made the original Gladiator games so entertaining: Mayhem! Destruction! Severed limbs! In ancient Rome, every night was like sweeps on FOX!

No doubt, Gladiator will render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto Universal/DreamWorks a 40 million dollar opening weekend. From the shmutz-filled battle blazing in the opening sequence to the delightfully satisfying cheeseball ending, Gladiator is an epic, primal panorama of good versus evil.

Caesar says: Thumbs up!

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