by Corey Hall
In the history of cinema, Outlander is the best Viking warriors vs. giant glow-in-the-dark space iguana movie ever made. It is. Of course, and rather sadly, there ain't much competition in the genre. Indeed, Viking movies are notoriously tricky to make, and they tend to get caught up in development and distribution hell. For example, 2007's Pathfinder, a Native Americans vs. Vikings muddle, was long delayed, and this film took an equally tortured path to find its way to the screen. The script has been kicking around since the early '90s — it was reworked multiple times to suit changing tastes and budgets — and was finally completed because its kooky sci-fi spin on Beowulf must've been a profitable option.
While star Jim Caviezel hasn't been typecast since playing Mel Gibson's agonized and abused Jesus, he has slipped into a strange netherworld of obscure indies and straight-to-DVD pabulum. Here he plays stoic alien astronaut Kainan who crashes his starship into a lake in Iron Age-era Norway and, as his handy 25th century translating computer explains, Earth is a long-abandoned colony worthy of his race of militaristic space yuppies. Trouble is, he has brought with him a deadly flesh-eating critter called a Moorwen, which promptly chomps down an entire Norse village. (Try explaining that one to a tribe of paranoid, sword-wielding barbarians.) Kainan has a helluva time getting the local King (the delightfully hammy John Hurt) to buy his story. Therefore, he must impress. And so he does with displays of mead drinking, maiden wooing, bear slaying and a bit of ancient crowd surfing atop lifted shields. As soon as Kainan bonds with hothead warrior Wulfric (Jack Huston) the nasty Moorwen appears and begins gobbling up villagers like lutefisk, leading to a last-ditch plan to slay the crazed phosphorescent thing.
It's all familiar and sublimely silly but the cast treats the material with a noble dose of dignity that keeps the movie from becoming pure camp. But it still feels stiff; for every good idea shown, there's a goofy bit of dialogue to undermine it, and a distinctly cheesy, Euro-trashy air to the proceedings. But the loony premise is fun, fun enough to transcend the dull patches between bitchin' monster attacks. Though there's a criminal shortage of the awesome Ron Perelman here, seen brandishing twin war hammers and face tattoos as if he's the only one in on the joke.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.