Thursday, April 12, 2007

The oft-delayed actioner “Pathfinder” is like the dumbed down offspring of “300” and “Apocalypto.”

And neither of those films fell anywhere near the genius category.

We’re told the film is based on legend, which is about three rungs lower than a movie “inspired by actual events.”

The saga opens long before Christopher Columbus made his way west. A young Viking lad is discovered, shivering and alone, by a kindly American Indian woman.

The boy had refused to kill Indians alongside his papa Viking and was abandoned when those Vikings moved on to their next pillaging assignment.

So the boy is taken in by the woman’s tribe, even though his skin is white and they fear he may one day plunder like his papa.

Fifteen years later, the boy is a hearty, hulking man known as Ghost (played by “Lord of the Rings’ ” Karl Urban). Ghost has grown to love his new family, even if some in the tribe still view him with suspicion.

When the Vikings return to finish the slaughter they started many years before, Ghost is forced to fight for his life. Many of his tribe members aren’t so lucky. They get massacred during the initial wave.

And we get to see every decapitation and dismemberment.

Director Marcus Nispel cut his teeth on music videos but made a slick transition to features with the unfairly maligned “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake. His work here suggests he hasn’t switched off from horror mode.

We even get some cheap scare tactics for no extra charge.

Ghost knows fighting the enemy head-on is suicidal, so he wisely opts for guerrilla tactics, attacking along with a beautiful Indian woman (Moon Bloodgood) and a few scattered survivors. Some of the assaults register as inventive, a respite from the film’s slapdash editing.

Audiences will be forgiven for thinking they’re watching a “Lord of the Rings” outtake, given the monstrous, Orc-like armor worn by the Vikings. It’s hard to fathom human beings lurk underneath, and the film’s achingly bad dialogue doesn’t help clear things up.

Mr. Urban’s brand of acting involves intense stares and flinging his wet hair off his face for the next protracted stare. Clancy Brown of HBO’s “Carnivale” is lucky enough to stay hidden behind makeup and a face mask playing one of the head Vikings.

Jonathan Elias’ bombastic score might fly in a more coherent story, but here it’s just another sledgehammer pummeling the viewer.

The finale, set on a crumbling mountainside, nearly salvages the film’s laborious second half.

The legend of “Pathfinder” may be one for the ages, since these battles saved the Indian population from decimation. But “Pathfinder” can’t save itself from its own excesses.


TITLE: “Pathfinder”

RATING: R (Consistently bloody and gory action, some adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Nils Gaup.

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes



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