Watered down barbarian

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, August 19, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a former bodybuilding champ and a part-time novelty film actor (“Stay Hungry”) when fate led him to the first “Conan the Barbarian” picture in 1982.

And the rest is history, at least in Hollywood and the California governor’s mansion. It took “Conan” to confirm the fact that, whatever you thought of muscle-men with thick Austrian accents, this guy had a certain movie-star quality that just needed the right role.

The role is, of course, the brainchild of 1930s pulp writer Robert E. Howard, who dreamed up the ancient warrior Conan, of Cimmeria, a primitive land in a vanished age.

We will see what becomes of Jason Momoa, the star of the new “Conan the Barbarian.” He’s got muscles and hair, but somehow his delivery is a little lightweight for the bloody, barbaric requirements of the role.

And hoo boy, this movie is bloody. Director Marcus Nispel, who honed his skills in the remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th,” begins the movie with baby Conan being surgically delivered from his mother’s womb in the midst of a raging battle.

It’s little wonder the kid seems determined to wage war. A couple of pretty arresting action sequences scar young Conan for life, which is how he came up with his philosophy: “I live. I love. I slay. I am content.”

Many amputations and skull-crushings follow, along with visits to the Cimmerian version of the Playboy Club, where men grunt and gamble and women are compliant. Conan searches for the evil warrior-king Khalar Zym, who killed his father (Ron Perlman).

Along with revenge, Conan has a shot at stopping Khalar Zym from acquiring a fancy snake-mask, which will give enormous powers to the wearer. Khalar (a game try at menace by a fine actor, Stephen Lang) is joined by his witchy daughter (Rose McGowan), in this quest.

I forgot to mention that they need the pure blood of a “pureblood” (duh), played here by Rachel Nichols. Actually, the storyline of “Conan” is pretty serviceable for such things. The problem is with Nispel’s overbearing style and Momoa’s underwhelming presence.

The movie is incredibly loud, with every dropped sword or severed head given a giant digitalized whomp on the soundtrack. Is there such a thing as 3-D for sound?

Speaking of which, the 3-D effects are pretty feeble and almost not noticeable. (In which case, why bother? If you’re going to have 3-D, cheese it up and throw stuff at the camera.)

As for Momoa, he tends to rush his lines and drop his voice as though trying to convince us of his toughness. Plus, he looks human.

Schwarzenegger’s great gift to the role was his total unreality as a screen icon: Pumped-up and otherworldly, he didn’t look like anything you’d ever seen. How can a mere mortal compete with the memory of that?

“Conan the Barbarian” ½

Jason Momoa steps into the loincloth left behind by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a return to the violent character created by pulp writer Robert E. Howard. The movie’s got a serviceable story line, but director Marcus Nispel overplays everything, and Momoa is underwhelming, especially compared to the pumped-up unreality of Arnold in his prime.

Rated: R for violence, nudity.

Showing: Alderwood mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Metro, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Tree.

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