The Austin Chronicle

Conan the Barbarian

Rated R, 112 min. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Narrated by Morgan Freeman. Starring Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 26, 2011

Morgan Freeman narrates the requisite (albeit totally unnecessary) opening exposition while we witness the feisty li'l barbarian brat (played as a youth by Leo Howard) receiving weapons training from his father (Perlman, resplendent in bifurcated weirdbeard). Morgan Freeman?! Seriously? That's just strange. A remaker of better films, Marcus Nispel takes on John Milius' epic testosterone orgy and provides gallons upon gallons of CGI gore and Frank Frazetta-esque backgrounds but precious little of the humanity (yes, I said humanity) of the 1982 Schwarzenegger original. As the new Conan, Momoa is buff in a leaner, meaner, post-millennial Fashion Week sort of, um, fashion. The few line readings he's called upon to deliver are given in a basso-profundo growl that cleaves closely to the spirit of Texan Robert E. Howard's Conan voice (not to mention L. Sprague deCamp's Conan iterations). But this recasting of the runes is less than memorable, chiefly due to an uninspired script (except for Conan's C-section birth during battle, natch) that mixes and matches sword-and-sandle tropes without managing to sustain an iota of Steve Reeves’, much less Ahnold's, sword-wielding charisma. The plot, driven as always by vengeance of the hyperviolent kind, sets the he-man barbarian on a quest to slaughter the maniacal Khalar Zym (Lang, not only chewing the scenery but sucking the marrow as well), the man what slew his pa. Zym, accompanied by his sorceress daughter Marique (McGowan, shorn of her locks), is on a quest of his own, seeking the feminine charms of the "pure" Tamara (Nichols), who, along with a magical artifact swiped from the Cimmerians (Conan's home team, you'll recall), will make him all-powerful or something. Nispel shoots the action sequences in his usual choppy style and, in an odd move for such a bloodthirsty picture, has leeched much of the color from the film (shades of 300, possibly). The result is a somewhat functional blood feast for the exploitation crowd, but it's hardly a bead of sweat on the original's battered backside. Oh, and the score? Basil Poledouris' bombastic brass is still No. 1.

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