Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CONAN THE BARBARIAN - Violent and Irrelevant

CONAN THE BARBARIAN (fantasy actioner)
Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman and Leo Howard
Director: Marcus Nispel
Screenplay: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood, based on the character created by Robert E. Howard
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Jason Momoa and Rachel Nicols as Conan and Tamara

PREAMBLE: This Conan the Barbarian reboot is more like the TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand than the 1982 film starring Arnie Schwarzenegger or the original story by Robert E. Howard. Working on a new 'origin story', director Marcus Nispel almost drowns viewers in a whirlpool of violence, gore and smut effects.

Yes, the uncut version shows plenty of brutality and nudity - but thankfully that celebrated scene of Jason Momoa's bare behind remains intact for Malaysian audiences. You guessed it: many people will be waiting for the DVD version.

SYNOPSIS: While most newborns get their first taste of milk from their mother, infant Conan reportedly gets his first taste of blood from his mother. Brought up by his father Corin (Ron Perlman) in a small Cimmerian village, the Barbarian boy (played by Leo Howard) learns the art of killing and hunting.

When his entire village is destroyed by warlord Khalar Zym (Avatar’s Stephen Lang) and his witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), Conan swears revenge (what else?). This vengeance trail takes Conan (now played by Momoa) to a slave village and later a monastery where he rescues Pure-Blood priestess Tamara (Rachel Nichols, pic, left) from Khalar Zym's henchmen. Tamara is sought by Zym because her blood is needed for a ritual to resurrect his sorceress wife.

HITS & MISSES: Basically this version has the same strengths and weaknesses as the 1982 film. Like that Austrian muscleman Arnie, Momoa the Hawaiian (who starred in TV's Game Of Thrones) is well-built and pleasant to the eyes. However, like Arnie's Conan, his too cannot and does not 'connect' emotionally with the audience. His Conan remains a two-dimensional character - even in 3-D - because we do not, even for a moment, feel that he is ever in danger, especially when, as a youth, he single-handedly lobs off the heads of four enemy warriors.

This Conan's personal mantra, "I live, I love, I slay and I am content", is appropriately campy and borders on the comical. Indeed, Nispel's scenes work best when they are self-deprecating and comical. The sequence with the sand-men is a good example. Like the rest of the movie, the fighting sequences are ostensibly violent but emotionally detached, leaving us numbed in a blurry mess of action. The same detachment also applies to the roles of Lang and McGowan whose Marique (above) looks more like a Lady Gaga impersonator than a Dominatrix with iron claws. Remakes and reboots should aim to be better than the predecessor.

THE LOWDOWN: This is just a flash (and flesh) in the box-office pan.


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