Outmuscled by “300,” “Gladiator” and other steroidal juggernauts, Kevin Macdonald’s (“The Last King of Scotland”) slickly shot but unconvincingly acted and unevenly paced “The Eagle” is the latest unmemorable flick strong-armed to the children’s table in the over-saturated historical epic market.

“The Eagle”

At Quality 16 and Rave
Focus Features

The ever-brooding Channing Tatum (“Dear John”) slips into gladiator sandals as hotshot Roman military officer Marcus Flavius Aquila, whose father’s Ninth Legion was infamously squelched by opposition warriors in enemy territory in 120 A.D. Lost in battle was the film’s namesake: a golden eagle said to represent the glory of Rome. Purely symbolic, yes, but the Romans are pretty pissed off that the elder Aquila coughed it up.

Honorably discharged after suffering an injury in battle, Marcus treks to northern Britain ― separated from the Roman-controlled south by the historical Hadrian’s Wall ― to reclaim the lost eagle and, effectively, his family’s name. Along for the ride is his slave, Esca (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot”), a British native who helps navigate treacherous terrain and stubborn regional countrymen.

Bell’s convincing turn as the stoic but contemptuous Esca is one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise gloomy Hollywood revision of Roman history. While Bell breathes life into the master/slave dynamic that provides one of the film’s more interesting subplots ― will Esca turn on Marcus on his home turf? ― Tatum’s uninspired performance suffocates it. Tatum flirts with a faux accent from scene to scene, frequently relapsing to a mumblecore that harkens to his dancing days in the first “Step Up” installment. Given Tatum’s acting chops ― he gave an exceptional, visceral performance as Antonio in Dito Montiel’s “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” ― the fact that his soundly-coiffed Caesar cut is the most authentic part of his performance is regrettable.

The rest of the cast proves deflating as well. While Tatum at least engages in vernacular warfare, most of his Roman counterparts wave the white flag and surrender to a dull, American “Office Space” drone suggesting that under their antiquated garb are pleated Dockers and a cozy 401K. Accountability does not rest strictly with the cast, as a dry script births stale dialogue better served in a stock sports flick, which ultimately blunts and trivializes the characters’ oft-contentious relationships.

Fortunately, well crafted action scenes add some necessary spark to a sometimes inching story. Though the combat sequences offer nothing new, their attention to detail helps articulate the complex dynamic between the film’s leads. Attractive frames of the handsome, Middle Earth-esque landscape also add some visual punch, with a rough, expansive countryside subtly highlighting the magnitude of the characters’ caper. Yet a magnetic aesthetic is not enough to combat a narrative that more often than not emotionally and intellectually short-sells its audience.

Alas, on a supplementary note, was there ever much hope for “The Eagle?” To be awkwardly sandwiched between powerful weekend releases like “Just Go With It” and Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” 3-D documentary is a marginalizing fate for any film to suffer, much less one with comparatively dim star power. Perhaps only a rogue “Twilight” release could mute a messy Sandler-with-Aniston rom-com and the almost endemic puppy love for the Bieb. Such is obviously not the case, and this eagle, hardly flashing unique feathers, is ultimately left crooning an unbecoming swan song.

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