Screenwriters: Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain
Starring: James Caviezel, John Hurt, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Ron Perlman
Running time: 115 mins
There's just about enough lunacy and decapitating thrills in Outlander to give it a passing grade as a leave-your-brain-in-the-lobby action movie. Its concept, of a dragon-like alien terrorising a Viking community, is both rife with possibility and ridiculously idiotic. Even the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer team of the mid-'80s would have tossed Outlander's script aside for being too stupid - and nobody did ludicrous excess quite like that particular double act.
Falling to Earth in Norway, 709 A.D., alien Kainan (Caviezel) is captured in the Viking village of Herot. Led by King Rothgar (Hurt) and his jealous nephew Wulfric (Huston), the clan are initially uncertain about the outsider. Facing the prospect of violence from a rival tribe headed by Gunnar (Perlman), the villagers are further threatened by a giant outer space beast (called the Moorwen) from Kainan's home world. Springing free in order to defeat the monster, Kainan forms a tentative alliance with his captors. Along the way, there's even time for a spot of romantic tension with the feisty Freya (Myles) swaying between the mysterious Kainan and heroic Wulfric.
Combining science fiction with Norse drama is a conceit with some originality, yet Outlander has a derivative whiff of Alien Vs. Predator about it - as if it's driven more by corporate gimmickry than creative finesse. Director Howard McCain has a fair grasp of action genre mechanics, but keeps proceedings plodding along for far too long. What could have been a 90-minute B-movie blast is instead padded out for almost two hours. There's even that flawed modern action staple of having a needless extra set piece - in this case a cliff-top battle after a failed attempt to kill the Moorwen in a trench of burning oil - when it makes more sense to wrap things up (Speed is the king of this; it carries on with a subway chase after all the bus shenanigans).
Of Outlander's supporting stars, Perlman is criminally underused, Huston is as wooden as a Viking longboat and Myles is too homely to convince as a sword-wielding heroine. Caviezel, mesmerising in The Passion Of The Christ and The Count Of Monte Cristo but uninspiring in pretty much everything else, plays the Messianic hero with blank-faced ambivalence. The role is crying out for a bit of Ziggy Stardust-style extra-terrestrial panache. The script skirts around exploring Kainan's life on his home planet, making it difficult to connect with his tragic loss - and casually tying in his back story with themes of mass genocide is a tad crass and unnecessary.
Outlander, like all good monster movies should, teasingly keeps its beast hidden in the shadows. However, when the Patrick Tatopolous-designed creature is finally unveiled it's something of a let down, lacking any of the memorable characteristics of a Stan Winston or H.R. Giger creation. With plenty of spattered blood and gore and some nice homages to the Beowulf tale the movie isn't without thrills, though its conceptual ambitions are rarely fulfilled in their execution.
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