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2 out of 4 stars

Thermae Romae
Directed by
Hideki Takeuchi

Maybe something gets lost in translation. Based on a popular manga series, Thermae Romae has done boffo box-office in its native Japan but, apparently, not all comic books travel well. This one's fate is surprising, because the conceit is terrific. Marrying a sci-fi hook to a costume-epic look, the script tracks the time travels of a lowly architect in the Rome of Emperor Hadrian. Lucius designs bathhouses, until he slips through an aquatic wormhole into present-day Tokyo, marvels at the wonders of Jacuzzi technology, then wormholes back to put his newfound knowledge to practical use. From there, the picture oscillates between the ancient and the modern, trolling for jokes yet, too often, finding nothing but tedium. Still, it's a hoot to hear those toga-clad Romans trading in their customary English for fluent Japanese.

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