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Slick, Not Savage

by Ann Morrow on August 25, 2011

Conan the Barbarian
Directed by Marcus Nispel

In Conan the Barbarian, the remake, Conan is born into battle—literally. He’s ripped from his dying mother’s womb by his father (Ron Perlman) in the midst of a killing spree by an invading force of decadent . . . somebody-or-others. The king of the decadents, Khaler (a slumming Stephen Lang), has a supernatural agenda beyond just enslaving unsuspecting Cimmerians, but that’s the squishy, witchy part of the movie. First, baby Conan must grow into a ferocious, preteen killing machine, and later, into a wandering vigilante in the form of former Baywatch beefcake Jason Momoa. Momoa wears an ankle-length skirt, and he’s prone to plunging his sword into the ground as an exclamation point to every contrived action sequence he lands in.

Despite all the nonstop killing, there isn’t much actual battling in evidence, and Momoa (perhaps intentionally) smirks when he should be snarling. Conan does cross paths with a love interest, a “pureblood” virgin (Rachel Nichols) who is the last of a line of ancient sorcerers, and whom Conan suavely informs, “I live, I love, I slay,” during the first of several love scenes so bland they barely register.

The pureblood’s pure blood is much sought after by Khaler’s necromancer daughter (Rose McGowan), for impurely sacrificial reasons, though McGowan’s campy performance seems more inspired by her grotesque costuming than any attempt to be sinister.

Directed by Marcus Nispel, who specializes in needless remakes (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), this heavily CGI-crafted update drains the grunting, rampaging energy of John Milius’ 1982 version, in which bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger and dancer Sandahl Bergman played savages with an unself-conscious sincerity that the remake sorely lacks (not to mention that Lang’s leering chieftain offers little competition to James Earl Jones’ brutal warlord). Conjured sandmen soldiers, mythical pirate ships, orclike minions, and a pissed-off Kraken (especially in awful 3D that makes everything look like a hologram) don’t quite compensate for the remake’s utter lack of ass-kicking barbarity.