With the subtlety of several thousand flying mallets and arrows, here comes Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto," a two-hour plus torture-fest so violent that women and children will be headed to the doors faster than you can say "duck" when the film opens on Dec. 8.
Indeed, "Apocalypto" is the most violent movie Disney has ever released, with so much blood spurting out of orifices that even Martin Scorsese would blush.
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to see heads and hearts removed without anesthesia, then this is the movie for you. "Grey's Anatomy" it is not.
What it is, Gibson says, is the story of a civilization in transition, as the Mayans 500 years ago fought among themselves until visitors from Europe arrived by ship and spelled their doom.
Unfortunately, though, that part of the movie lasts maybe three minutes and takes place at the very end.
"Apocalypto" really is a video game, a sort of "Survivor" set in what would become the Mayan ruins as we know them today.
The action is often cartoonish, and the dialogue — which is all spoken in some ancient dialect with subtitles — is often preposterous.
In one scene, after what seems like the umpteenth bloody killing, one Mayan quips to another and the translation is, "He's f—-ed."
Gibson directs some of the film like "Braveheart" and some of it like "The Three Stooges." There is little poetry to his imagination, so the hard work has to be done by veteran cinematographer Dean Semler.
Semler saves Gibson over and over, but not by much and not totally. The problem is that, unlike in "The Passion of the Christ," there is no noble goal here. The Mayans are merely fighting among themselves. There's no indication that the triumph by one side over another will achieve anything.
Gibson's reliance on Semler is as odd as his choice of the cinematographer. The pair worked together on "We Were Soldiers." But also on Semler's résumé are Kevin Costner's great work, "Dances with Wolves," which was similar in theme to "Apocalypto," and Costner's monumental flop "Waterworld." Unfortunately, "Apocalypto" falls more on the side of the latter than the former.
Semler's production is so shiny and perfect that his Mayans sometimes seem like they're in a Coca-Cola commercial. Instead of the dusty world of "Dances with Wolves," we get the high sheen of Kodak prints.
Sometimes, the result of this is a vivid portrait of death. For example, a jaguar eats a man's head, and masticates. Half-dressed Mayans are shot through the head, heart and chest with arrows and knifed sometimes without notice and almost always in the most gruesome ways possible. Heads roll and bounce, for real, down the long stairs of the Kukulcan Pyramid, or what we now regard the centerpiece of the Mayan ruins.
Not all of "Apocalypto" is awful. Rudy Youngblood gives an athletic performance as Jaguar Paw, the hero who must save his pregnant wife and child from warring factions after he hides them in a deep pit.
Youngblood is quite literally the only person who emerges from the movie unscathed, somehow not dying or requiring medical attention after sustaining injuries that would kill most men.
He almost succeeds in making Jaguar Paw a completely sympathetic figure, too, by giving him nearly no dialogue. But then Gibson and screenwriter Farhad Safinia let him jump the shark (or the jaguar, in this case) and make hoary proclamations to the artfully designed sky. Even Youngblood seems like he's going to wince with embarrassment.
Of course, "Apocalypto" arrives with a lot of baggage. Gibson — an admitted alcoholic who denies being anti-Semitic despite evidence to the contrary — is kind of a marked man.
He refuses to answer a lot of questions, and he is confining his publicity for the movie to safe havens with Disney and ABC, which the studio owns (I dare Jay Leno to ask him about this summer's incidents when he appears on that show on opening night).
But more than those questions, there are new ones: What kind of man is so interested in making this kind of violent movie? What motivates him?
"Apocalypto" surpasses "The Passion" in every way as a movie about pain, flagellation and wounding. The grotesqueries are almost numbing, and at some point they become laughable.
But all the while, you're thinking, what's the point here? If "Apocalypto" was supposed to be about that transitional civilization, where is it? After two hours and several minutes of squirming and covering eyes, you start to think that "Apocalypto" exists just to show violence for itself. The point is lost.
Did you really think the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes nuptials were over? Guess again. There’s a Part 2, and it’s on tap for next week.
When TomKat returns from their Maldives honeymoon, they will be welcomed with a star-studded reception thrown by Cruise’s partner, Paula Wagner. This party will presumably include all the people who felt slighted or couldn’t make it to Rome.
This group could include fellow Scientologists John Travolta and Kelly Preston, as well as Kirstie Alley. You could see that in their absence from the Rome wedding, Scientology sent D-lister Catherine Bell, late of the show “JAG.”
Maybe Katie will be allowed some friends at this party, like her co-stars from “Dawson’s Creek” or from a couple of her indie movies.
The location of the party is still being worked out. Apparently Wagner offered to have it at her home, but the guest list has grown and a new venue is being secured.
And two prominent Scientologists with whom Tom has been incredibly close over the last years but whom he mysteriously didn’t invite to Rome may turn up at last. That’s Michael and Andrea Doven, Cruise’s “secret” friends.
A perusal of credits for various Cruise movies shows Michael Doven, a talented photographer, listed as associate producer on "Collateral," "The Last Samurai," "Minority Report," "Mission: Impossible 2" and "Vanilla Sky."
Doven hasn’t got any real experience in the film business, but he also received coveted production associate or “assistant to Mr. Cruise” credits — and presumably a paycheck — on nine more Cruise movies, including "Far and Away," "A Few Good Men," "Jerry Maguire," "The Firm," "Magnolia," "Eyes Wide Shut," "Interview with the Vampire" and the first "Mission: Impossible." He also got an acting credit on 'Eyes Wide Shut' and a special "thank you" on "The Others," which Cruise produced.
At the same time, his wife, Andrea Doven, got production associate credits on three Nicole Kidman movies: "Eyes Wide Shut," "Portrait of a Lady" and "Practical Magic." She also got an acting credit on Kidman’s "The Peacemaker." But since Tom and Nicole’s divorce, nothing.
What’s pretty clear is that for a long time the Dovens were Tom and Nicole’s “monitors” from Scientology. But what isn’t clear is why Cruise has fallen out with Doven more recently. Both Dovens have taken numerous Scientology courses and risen high in the organization’s ranks.
Two Oscar frontrunners, "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Little Children," are about to combine in a weird way. My sources say that Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are going to direct a movie based on a new novel by “Children” author Tom Perotta. The deal is being set up at Warner Independent as we speak. A St. Martin's Press source says “The Abstinence Teacher” is, like Perotta’s other novels, about anomie, sex and the suburbs. The book will be published next fall. …
Set your TV recorders for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. That’s when the wonderful documentary “Ithuteng (Never Stop Learning)” airs on HBO. Don’t miss this amazing film made by Charlie and Willie Ebersol and their friend Kip Kroeger, about Mama Jackey’s school in South Africa. The Ebersols’ mom, actress Susan Saint James, served as assistant editor, by the way.
Wednesday night’s Gotham Awards were so long, they may still be going on. But what a pleasure to run into the gang from “Half Nelson,” which won Best Feature. "Half Nelson" debuted at Sundance and has since gone on to win a cult following.
And who was the most popular actress in the room? Why, Abigail Breslin, the 10-year-old who steals “Little Miss Sunshine.” Everyone wanted to meet her. Ah, fame. She’s 10 years old, people! She can’t sign contracts, make handshake deals or take any meetings. Just in case you were wondering. …