MOVIE REVIEW: Don't be fooled, ‘Conan the Barbarian’ is not a remake

Conan The Barbarian


1 out of 4 stars

Everybody involved with this movie -- the studio suits, the filmmakers, the on-screen talent -- wants to make sure everyone knows this is not a remake of the 1982 movie that propelled a certain semi-disgraced ex-governor of California into superstardom. If that's the case, why then did they choose to use the exact same title? It sounds like they want it both ways.

The title, source material, dudes with overdeveloped pectorals and mammoth broadswords are the only things the two movies have in common. The first was firmly rooted in relatively sanitized camp and restrained PG-13-level violence. This new one is a humorless bloodbath bore that takes full advantage of its R rating by also including several beheadings, well-endowed topless females and a love scene that could easily qualify as soft-corn porn. Think pale imitations of "The Lord of the Rings" and "Braveheart" by way of a neanderthal-themed edition of Penthouse Forum and you'll get the idea.

Set in what looks like a part of medieval Europe that is dotted with hamlets sporting impossibly convoluted names, it is closer in look and tone to writer Robert E. Howard's pulp novels but has all the finesse of an out of tune German jazz band. From start to finish it is wall-to-wall visual and sonic overkill. It is also the second movie released this week with a 1980s counterpart ("Fright Night" being the other) that intends to scourge and pillage the wallets of unsuspecting movie fans by tacking on monumentally lame, totally unnecessary 3-D to a 2-D photographed movie.

The sole bit of good news comes in the form of the casting. Rather than go the route of a big name (Dwayne Johnson or say Vin Diesel) for the title character, the studio went with Jason Mamoa, an episodic TV mainstay born of mixed Pacific Islander and Western European heritage.

With '70s heavy metal hair, face and pursed lips atop a ripped Gold's Gym physique, Mamoa more than fits the bill visually and manages to go the duration grunting out his minimal dialog without eliciting unintended giggles. He succeeds by not failing.

Performing opposite Mamoa as love interest Tamara is Rachel Nichols, a blond turned redhead who looks like a younger, softer, curvier version of Jodie Foster. Also exhibiting Foster's gamely pluck and verve, Nichols' Tamara is no shrinking violet and gives as good as she gets but even she can't overcome the third act damsel-in-distress stereotypes thrust upon her.

Looking a lot like Christopher Plummer in "Star Trek VI," Stephen Lang (the off the reservation military man in "Avatar") plays Khaler Zym, a power-hungry zealot with a silly name who acts as Conan's evil foil. He spends the entirety of the movie trying to find the missing parts of an even sillier mask that resembles a sun-dried squid which is useless until brought back to life with Tamara's magical blood.

Assisting Zym in his quest is his half-witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) who dons some of the oddest costumes and gnarly nail extensions imaginable. An otherwise competent actress, McGowan hams it up to the hilt here while made up to look alternately like the Queen of Hearts from the recent "Alice in Wonderland" and her former off-screen ex-boyfriend Marilyn Manson.

If you still feel compelled to venture forth and torture yourself by seeing this film, go the extra step and try to find a theater presenting it in old fashioned 2-D, or better yet, wait a couple months for a $1 Redbox rental. Even then at that price you still might be paying too much. (Lionsgate)