It’s been rumored in some history books that Attila the Hun died of an exploding blood clot while in the throes of sexual ecstasy – what a way to go, huh? Unfortunately, that’s a scene you won’t find in the USA Network’s made for television Attila, the latest attempt to cash in on the success of Gladiator. A boy becomes a warrior who becomes a king powerful enough to challenge an empire. Are you not entertained?
This epic mini-series opens with the requisite tragedy that shapes young Attila into a Bad Motherfucker That Will Kneel To No One. Taking its cue from Braveheart, his parents are killed before his very eyes as his village is burned to the ground by roving marauders. Attila grows up to be played by the dashing Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000), rumored to be superb in the London theatre production of Trainspotting. American audiences will have to wait and see if he’ll prove to be an actor of any substance, since he’s given little to do here other than make great proclamations and survey the fields of battle with a soldier’s impassive stoicism.
Our man Attila brings together the separatist Hun tribes to march on Rome, fueled by an obsessive desire to rule the world. The only man who stands in his way — and seemingly the only intelligent general in the Roman Empire — is Flavius Aetius (Powers Boothe, who gives a typically strong performance but seems out of place with his cigarette streaked cowboy’s voice). When these two titans aren’t clashing horns, they’re trying to convince each other to join the other side. For all its machismo, Attila is really something of a mismatched love story between tough guys whose parading armies provide an excuse to dance around each other. It must be love. Or something. You decide.
By TV standards, Attila is surprisingly polished with swooping crane shots of horseback riders waving their swords in the air. Take from that whatever homoerotic subtext you will. The filmmakers throw in a token love interest (Baywatch babe Simmone Jade Mackinnon, playing dual roles Vertigo-style) but, c’mon, that isn’t fooling anybody! Reg Rogers (I Shot Andy Warhol) is more openly gay and incestuous as the simpering Roman emperor, watched over by a domineering mother (Alice Krige, who I’ve had a crush on since 1981’s Ghost Story through making Borg Queens sexy in Star Trek: First Contact. But enough about me…).
Attila makes for an entertaining soap opera, even if by the very nature of soaps it turns out to be complete and utter crap. But it’s larger-than-life crap, and that’s gotta count for something!