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'Atilla': Attack TV

Category: Attila Reviews
Article Date: January 24, 2001 | Publication: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Author: JOANNE WEINTRAUB

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Who hasn't read about the stirring exploits of Attila, 5th-century king of the mighty Huns, and mused, in awe and wonder, "Gee, what made that guy tick?"

Yeah, me neither. And even for those who have, "Attila" (9 p.m. ET Tuesday and Wednesday, USA) provides barely a clue beyond that vintage whine, "Marauders slew my family and made me a tyrant."

Oh, boo-hoo, Attila. Tell it to someone who cares.

While they stop short of making him Attila the Honey, screenwriter Robert Cochran and director Dick Lowry clearly believe the Scourge of God - the affectionate nickname used by his contemporaries - was misunderstood.

The trouble is, they don't seem to understand him, either. This could be forgiven, in light of the 15 centuries and change that separate them and their subject, but it makes for a very shaky four hours.

What little insight we get into Attila's psychology in particular and the Hun lifestyle in general comes early on, after a very young and freshly orphaned Attila (Rollo Weeks) escapes his family's killers on horseback. Alone and starving, he slashes a vein in the horse's flank and greedily drinks, then raises a grim, blood stained face to the intruders who suddenly ride up.

But as Attila's fortunes rise, the drama flat-lines. Who knew that conquering half of Europe could be so dull?

It's hard to blame Scottish actor Gerard Butler, who, although too pretty for the role of the adult Attila, does have a half-mad, plausibly barbaric glint in his eye. The poor man is saddled with so many speeches about the importance of teamwork you half expect him to start passing out inspirational leaflets or reminding the troops that there's no "I" in "Hun."

Inevitably, Cochran comes up with a love interest for our hero - two, in fact, though they're played by the same actress, Simmone Jade MacKinnon, and have barely enough personality between them to make one convincing character. The other woman in Attila's life - his friend Galen (Pauline Lynch), a seer by trade and a drama queen by nature - has a bit too much personality, not to mention a hairdo that resembles a bird's nest affixed to a macrame plant hanger.

Powers Boothe, Tim Curry and Alice Krige play various untrustworthy Romans. My favorite of the lot, though, is the Roman maiden who observes of Attila, the new guy in the Empire: "He's quite striking, in a primitive way."

USA spent lavishly on the Roman sets and the endless battlefield scenes, which were shot in Lithuania, and the production certainly doesn't look cheap. But the unimaginative script and thoroughly conventional direction make "Attila" seem like a rehash, from the first lusty "Yaaaaaah!" of the charging Huns to the last Roman betrayal.

If you'd like to get a glimpse of the Lithuanian countryside, the Huns, the horses and the primitively striking Butler without sitting through all the looting and pillaging, check out "Attila: The Making of an Epic Mini-Series," which premiered last week and repeats twice this week (5 p.m. ET Sunday and 10:30 p.m. ET Monday, USA). At a tidy half-hour, it's 210 minutes shorter than the main event - and the dialogue is better, too.

Copyright 2001 Scripps Howard, Inc.


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