"A new kind of war," Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) intones, as the camera roams a frontline fort in northern Britain. "A war without honor. A war without end," he says, before a disposable conscript enjoying an alfresco piss catches a spear in the groin. Centurion thereby establishes its lumbering rhythm: Some tough guy gravely recites a war movie platitude, something sharp and deadly glints in the gray light, blood vamooses from burly bodies, then some tough guy gravely recites a war movie platitude. This spin cycle continues until the flickering images are scrubbed into a constant, becalming drone of perfect mediocrity, and I sort of did not hate it, in the same way I sort of don't hate beige walls or the sound of a cloud moving.
You won't care a whit once the film begins humming its familiar tune, but I suppose you should know that it's 137 A.D. or thereabouts, and Rome is running the Risk board. However, the Picts, a tribe of recalcitrant British guerrillas, like so many goddamned blue-faced bedbugs, just won't give in. When General Titus Flavius Virilus (The Wire's Dominic West) is apprehended by the Picts, Quintus and a small troupe of beefcake soldiers penetrate enemy lines to save Private McNulty. The rescue mission eventually morphs into a cat-and-mouse chase across tundras and over waterfalls, and something strange happens, something almost good, something director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) likely never intended: Somehow, in its wonderfully middling way, Centurion manages to match a viewer's body temperature, conveying you to a place between pleasure and pain, need and satiation. You will be given nothing, but you won't want anything either.
I am certain Centurion will one day find its rightful resting place in the early-morning cable mausoleum, along with moving wallpaper like Reign of Fire and The Sixth Day, brilliantly generic nonentities that function as soporific solace for brains burned by insomnia. It's a shameful kind of immortality, but I will tell you this: There will come a time when I will be grateful Centurion exists, grateful for the chance to let my mind wander its bland halls, grateful it asks nothing of me, grateful there is no scene or moment or image worth staying tuned for, grateful for the blessed arrival of sleep. Centurion comes close to providing the state of something-ish nothingness one arrives at during meditation, but it is almost better than that, for I must not even consider my Self as I experience Centurion. Thought dissipates. Eyes glaze over. Ohm. Zzzzz. R.
Opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.