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With: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Carlos Emilio Baez, Ramirez Amilcar. Israel Contreras, Israel Rios, María Isabel Díaz
Written by: Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
Directed by: Mel Gibson
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images
Language: Maya with English subtitles
Running Time: 137
Date: 12/08/2006

Apocalypto (2006)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

Jungle Dumb

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

An unspoken pact exists between artists and the public, and it goes something like this: If you create something and we want it, we'll take it. But if you create something and we don't want it, tough luck. I get the impression that Mel Gibson has created Apocalypto, and that no one wants it. I certainly don't want it.

First thing's first: I don't particularly care what Mel Gibson says or does in his own time. I usually don't give two hoots about celebrity gossip. And so I sat down to Apocalypto with an open mind, having heard some very good buzz about this new film. The buzz is wrong. Apocalypto is unquestionably the most reprehensible, brain-dead and offensive movie I've seen all year, and this year has been a doozy.

The plot cobbles together bits of the Rambo and Mad Max films, although those films were done with a modicum of humanity, or at least an enjoyable lowbrow energy. Gibson now wants us to re-envision these silly plots as the grand stuff of glorious epics. Set in among the Mayan civilization, the movie opens on some scrotum jokes, and then continues with a penis joke. Our good tribe of hunters are a happy people, content to hunt and make babies and make fun of each other's willies. But an evil tribe comes along and kidnaps all able-bodied folk, ties them up and drags them to a slave market. We know they're evil because they cackle a lot and sneer at the misfortune of others (if they had moustaches, believe me, there would be twisting).

Our hero Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), whose main job in the movie is to gaze at everything in disbelief, saves his wife and son by placing them at the bottom of a well, where they are subsequently trapped. Thanks to a ridiculous "prophecy," he manages to escape the slave market. He is chased, for no particular reason, for over an hour back into his neck of the woods by a band of snarling baddies, and like Rambo, he manages to pick them off one by one using the fruit of the land itself.

Unfortunately, it has begun to rain -- about 12 inches per minute, apparently -- because the well begins to fill up. And although our heroine could merely float up to the top (like Russell Crowe trapped in the swimming pool in the recent A Good Year), she instead chooses to start drowning.

That's just the stupid plot. Next up, we have gratuitous violence, which includes the bludgeoning of several animals, gaping wounds, spurting blood and even face-munching. If Gibson had the grace to make something cheerily exploitative -- something like the Mad Max or Lethal Weapon films -- perhaps this would be acceptable, even welcome, but in a "serious" film, it teeters toward the pathological.

Gibson's treatment of the Mayans themselves also presents a major problem. Perhaps he and co-screenwriter Farhad Safinia once conducted some research, but they seem to have discarded it. Gibson views these people as "the other," an exotic creature that fascinates him. He makes no attempt to understand or present a point of view. Instead, he paints one-dimensional "good guys" and "bad guys." It gets worse when the heroes leave their jungle home and observe the disturbing behavior at the slave market. Everyone is low-down here, and all traces of humanity are washed away in Gibson's starchy color scheme.

What is Gibson's point? That the capitalists are evil and we should all hunt and gather on our own plots of land? Or that those who stick by their families are the real heroes? But wouldn't the bad guys do the same? Gibson's ending is even more of a head-scratcher; it makes for a "stunning" image, but doesn't really resolve anything.

Even the score is bad. What else would it be but the predictable male moaning set to jungle drums?

Finally, Gibson's skill as a filmmaker comes into question. If Apocalypto were shot in an interesting way, it may have overcome the other, myriad problems. But it starts almost immediately with the trendy hand-held action shots, which mediocre directors use when they don't know how to choreograph action sequences. The film's pacing is completely haywire; Gibson simply does not have the skill to sustain that mega-chase sequence without veering into the ridiculous. Let's not even mention all the slo-mo sequences sure to inspire laughter.

I left Apocalypto angry, disturbed and drained -- and irritated that this dreadful film will garner far more attention, praise and box office revenue than Terrence Malick's masterpiece The New World. Apocalypto

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