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10,000 BC

(2008) * 1/2 Pg-13
108 min. Warner Brothers Pictures.

It was actually raconteur HL Mencken who said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public," but it was P.T. Barnum who lived it, putting over entertaining hoaxes on an eager public. Barnum's modern-day disciple is Roland Emmerich, specialist in the epic of stupidity. For an encore to the global-warming action picture The Day After Tomorrow (in which Dennis Quaid walks—through a blizzard—from Washington D.C. to Manhattan), our favorite Teutonic huckster presumes that prehistory means that anything narrative goes: hey, who can prove him wrong?

As narrator Omar Sharif intones at picture's outset, "Only time can teach us what is truth and what is legend." See? If Omar Sharif said it, it must be true! So when hunter tribesman D'Leh (Steven Strait) loses his blue-eyed love Evolet (Camilla Belle) in a warrior raid by "four-legged demons" (jerks on horseback), he leaves his sometimes snowy mountain land and tracks them to a rainforest (cue the giant prehistoric chicken attack), then a desert, and then a remote civilization that, Pharoah-style, has enjoined slaves to erect a pyramid.

It's at this moment in the movie—after countless lousy process shots and desperately concealing editing—that the audience will all breath a collective sigh of "Ohhhhh, so that's where the money went." After the soaring aerial shot meticulously filled with digital mammoths and digital slaves lugging digital building blocks, the rest is downhill from there. You'll be checking your watch and wondering when Emmerich will run out of budget.

My advice would be "Don't D'Leh. Don't go at all," but if "P.T." Emmerich gets you in for the five minutes of true spectacle, what else will you get? A series of set pieces that disagree with anthropology as we know it. A lot of running with spears, and I mean "a lot," much of it in slo-mo (there's a drinking game in the making here). A run-in with a saber-toothed tiger (allowing Emmerich to blatantly rip off the Alien vs. Sigourney Weaver profile shot). You'll also get prophecy after prophecy after prophecy, all of which come true in an effort to make the plot appear to be paying off. (And the less said about the climactic hooey, the better.)

The main prophecy is "A warrior will arise." Sounds a lot like the tagline to Gladiator; in fact, 10,000 BC plays a lot like a 1950s sword-and-sandal picture married to Quest for Fire, a combination only peanut butter-and-banana sandwich eaters could love. It's like Apocalypto without the skill, Emmerich's generic story serving only as a clothesline for hoary theatrics and bursts of unconvincing action.

[For Groucho's interview with Roland Emmerich, Steven Strait & Camilla Belle, click here.]

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