Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Legion: Why Rome Fell

During the less glorious years of the Roman Empire, the Emperor often promoted favored generals over their more talented colleagues. Thankfully, that sort of politicization of the military never happens here. Regardless, the embittered Gen. Corbulo is convinced Nero should have dispatched him to quell the Armenian uprising rather than his rival, Gen. Paetus. He certainly seems to have a point, since Paetus managed to get his troops precariously boxed in. All the men under Paetus’s command could be wiped out if a rugged centurion cannot reach Corbulo with a request for reinforcements in Jose Magan’s The Legion, which releases today on DVD.

Frankly, it could already be too late, but Pateus is finally willing to swallow his pride and ask Corbulo’s aid, for the sake of his men. The insurgents have blocked off all reasonable lines of communication, so the general’s senior aide-de-camp hatches a desperate plan. Noreno, a loyal half-roman mountain man will scale the ridge their backs are pinned against and then make his way to Syria with an official eating-crow letter for Corbulo, whose hands are otherwise tied, per Nero’s orders.

Of course, Noreno only sets off with two comrades to cover him and they are quickly dispatched. However, Noreno is made of sturdier stuff. He keeps plodding through snowy mountains and parched deserts. Yet, somehow his pursuers always to get ahead of him, while staying fresh as daisies.

There is an awful lot of Noreno trudging through snow in this movie. It will remind MST3K fans of the bots’ “rock-climbing” commentary for The Lost Continent. Generally speaking, that isn’t what a film should be going for. Unfortunately, long stretches of this short film really are a tough slog to get through.

Still, there is one part when the film suddenly perks up. During his unending march, Noreno finds shelter with “Saul,” a Christian convert transparently implied to be Paul the Apostle. Irish thesp Bosco Hogan is terrific as Saul, making us wonder how he was never cast in Game of Thrones. As for ostensive lead Lee Partridge, he has the right physicality for all of Noreno’s climbing and occasional fighting, but Magan never gives him much opportunity to display any real acting chops.

Granted, Mickey Rourke chews some serious scenery in his brief appearances as Corbulo. Unfortunately, the opening scene, in which he engages in a one-sided debate with a bust of Nero perversely reminds us of I, Claudius’s infinite superiority. To make things even weirder, Bai Ling has even less screen time as Amirah, Corbulo’s mistress and nagging conscience, but at least she makes the proceedings a little more interesting.

Ironically, this film is titled The Legion, but it only has a handful of characters. Cecil B. DeMille would not approve of such economy. Most fans of costume historicals will not be too crazy about it either. Not recommended, The Legion releases today on DVD.