Paul W.S. Anderson's sword-and-sandals epic plays like a video game version of a disaster movie, commencing with Pliny the Younger's firsthand account of the A.D. 79 calamity in which his esteemed uncle, soldier/scholar Pliny the Elder, perished in the bay at Stabiae.

Previous to that, however, in northern Britannia, a youngster named Milo watches as his family and entire tribe, the Celtic Horse Peoples, are slaughtered by marauding Roman soldiers under the command of decadent General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who is determined to extend the reign of Emperor Andronicus. Young Milo is captured and enslaved. Within 15 years, he has become an accomplished Londinium gladiator and is shipped off to Pompeii, near Naples in southern Italy.

That's where muscle-bound Milo (Kit Harrington) catches the eye of a beautiful maiden, Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of an upper-class merchant (Jared Harris) and his noble wife (Carrie-Ann Moss). Not so coincidentally, Cassia has been betrothed to gross, now-Senator Corvus. Meanwhile, the Vinalia festival is underway and the African champion, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), is only one death-match victory away from emancipation.

So those are the stakes: Milo needs to wreak vengeance against Corvus, who must not marry Cassia, and Atticus must earn his freedom.

While the campy beefcake quotient is high, director Paul W.S. Anderson ("Resident Evil," "Mortal Kombat") and screenwriters Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson formulate a cliche-riddled poor boy/rich girl "Titanic"-like scenario, never allowing us forget that Mount Vesuvius looms in the Coliseum's background, ready to bury everyone in bubbling lava.

Visually, the 3D adds little, particularly since it darkens what's already dim, so if you're determined to see this, go for the 2D version.

Insofar as the acting goes, it's one-dimensional. While Harrington may be memorable as part of HBO's "Game of Thrones" ensemble, he lacks singular charisma, along with Australian actress Browning, leaving the scenery-chewing to Sutherland, who relishes every evil moment.

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Fact box

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Pompeii" blows an ill-fated 4. With fireballs falling from the sky, it's catastrophic.