'Attila' Is Slashing, Burning Fun

Category: Attila Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: January 30, 2001 | Publication: The San Francisco Chronicle | Author: Editors
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There's television, which calls for clearing your throat and speaking almost respectfully, and then there's TV.

"Attila" is TV, a foolishly watchable, old-timey trash wallow with Roman baths, grunting battles and barbarian beauties.

It's dumb Hun fun from the USA cable network, which mistakenly seems to think it's stumbled upon actual television here.

They've even compiled a half-hour special called "Attila: The Making of an Epic Miniseries," which premiered last week on the cable channel.

The USA Network has always been a trifle unclear on the concept of distinguished programs. These are the folks who felt good about running a Chippendales male stripper movie on election night.

"Attila," a two-part miniseries, is the goosed-up story of Attila the Hun, who ruled the Huns from 434 to 453 and was the terror of Europe, the scourge of God and the horseback bad boy from the badlands.

The show is "MacAttila," in a way, because Gerard Butler ("Dracula 2000"), a Scottish actor with a tall, lean build, great abs and icy pale eyes, is cast as Attila.

It needn't matter that history records Attila as a short, squat man with a large head, a flat nose and a nasty disposition.

His sometime friend and sometime nemesis is the Roman general Flatulus (No! Sorry, it's Flavius) Aetius, played gravely by Powers Boothe.

Boothe conveys the impression that he knows all too well that his Roman general's costume is a bit like a miniskirt.

For dramatic purposes, the key to Attila is that as a boy, he saw his tribe's enemies attack and ransack his village, and slaughter everyone in sight.

So, escaping and growing to manhood under the wise tutelage of his kingly uncle Rua (Steven Berkoff), Attila devotes his life to attacking and ransacking villages, and slaughtering everyone in sight.

He makes an exception of N'Kara (Simmone Jade MacKinnon), who is either a villager or a swimsuit model. When his henchmen are about to divide her into unequal parts, Attila spares her.

He pegs her for his Hunnypie, marries her and, when she dies in childbirth, replaces her with an exact replica. So exact that she, too, is played by MacKinnon, who probably didn't get paid twice.

As for Flavius Aetius, his time is split between fending off Attila on the frontier of the Roman Empire and putting up with his idiot emperor, Valentinian III (Reg Rogers).

Tim Curry, with his rapacious appetite for scenery, turns up too. He's Theodosius, the blustery ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Directed by schlock veteran Dick Lowry ("Y2K," "Atomic Train") and filmed in Lithuania, "Attila" strives mightily, and sometimes successfully, for spectacle.

That means battles and pillaging. Whenever the miniseries runs low on intrigue, it sets Attila and his marauders loose to brandish their swords and get in touch with their feelings.

The body count is appalling, possibly owing to bargain rates for film extras in Lithuania. The bloodletting isn't exceptionally graphic, but the filmmakers have hit on a distinctly unpleasant audio effect for blades cutting through flesh and bones.

When close-quarter carnage fails, the Huns resort to trebuchets to knock down walls as they lay siege to Orleans, in Gaul.

That's amazingly prescient of them, because trebuchets -- giant siege machines that fling rocks at castle walls -- weren't in use until, oh, 700 or 800 years after Attila's death.

But that's all right. TV wasn't invented until 1,500 years later, and if "Attila" isn't TV, I don't know what is.

Copyright 2001 The Chronicle Publishing Co.