The Arena (2001)

Cross Gladiator with any episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. Then cross that with Playboy’s Erotic Fantasies II and you have yourself The Arena, a grim and inept Roger Corman production. A remake of the 1973 Corman production starring Pam Grier, this newfangled Arena stars not one, but two Playmates of the late 1990s, Karen McDougal and Lisa Dergan.

Respectively playing Jessemina and Bodicia, the girls are sold as slaves to the evil governor. Their duties are to clean the gladiator arena and serve as unpaid whores. But when the gov catching all the women having a heated catfight in their hut, he drafts them for a public cage match, because who doesn’t want to see girls, well, fight like girls? After the first girl-on-girl event, the soldiers celebrate by doing some strange Hokey Pokey dance. All the gladiator scenes are shot in that annoying shaky-cam “style,” but at least there is blood: a beheading, a man cut in half, another shot through the mouth with an arrow — and that’s just the first 10 minutes!

I think it says a lot about the film — the first in English for Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) — when even its sex scenes bore. But thanks to the bubble-butted McDougal’s exposure, I learned that boob jobs and bikini waxes were far more prevalent in ancient Rome than we were taught in schools. Predictably, she and Dergan are awful actresses; the stilted conversations between them are so pained and forced, it’s like watching two Valley girls struggle to talk about anything other than shoes or boys. And when it comes down to it, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

The supporting cast includes the now-stereotypical feminine, John Lithgow-type of a governor; a tough bald guy who always sniffles; and a hunky dude who looks and acts like Kevin Sorbo with a head injury. Everything is tinted blue or yellow — just like Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, but without purpose or reason to exist. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

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