The title role in "Hercules" bears some relation to a professional wrestler, and not just because he's played by one. In this movie, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is a bit of a sham, a sword-for-hire who uses his outsize reputation -- son of Zeus, slayer of the Hydra -- to whip up crowds and pump up his price. He even wears a costume: the invincible hide of the Nemean lion.
"If the hide is invincible," says a skeptical Trojan, "how did he get it off the lion?" Iolaus, an ancient Greek PR whiz played by Reece Ritchie, provides the answer: an invincible sword, of course.
Aside from recalling a classic routine from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," this brief exchange proves that "Hercules" has more wit and humor than its beef-packed posters suggest. "Hercules" is based on the comics by Steve Moore (a lesser-known but well-respected writer who died in March) and directed by the usually lively Brett Ratner ("X-Men: The Last Stand"). Its clever setup promises a satisfying climax: We already know that Hercules must become the hero he pretends to be.
The movie has a gift in Johnson, a dependable charmer, plus a fine supporting cast in colorful roles. Among Hercules' ragtag crew are the cynical Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the archeress Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), the slightly louche Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) and a mute ball of rage named Tydeus (Aksel Hennie). As the sneering King Eurystheus, Joseph Fiennes cribs from his brother Ralph's Voldermort in the "Harry Potter" series. Lord Cotys of Thrace, who hires Hercules and his gang, is played by the great John Hurt.
Unfortunately, the plot of "Hercules" heaves and grunts along, interrupted by battle scenes that are visually impressive (when's the last time you saw someone pick up a horse and throw it?) but emotionally uninvolving. Rebecca Ferguson plays the distressed damsel Ergenia, but there's no room for romance in all the sword-swinging. If "Hercules" had flexed its brain muscles a bit more, it could have been far more entertaining.
PLOT The Greek demigod helps save a troubled kingdom.
RATING PG-13 for violence, language
CAST Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal
BOTTOM LINE Another slow, sluggish, lead-sandaled adaptation of the Greek myth.