Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Bob Sapp
Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood, based on stories by Robert E. Howard
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 112
Date: 08/11/2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

Hy-Boring Age

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pathfinder, Friday the 13th), this movie is terrible, terrible, terrible. In the Hyborian age of swords and sorcery, Conan is born during a bloody battle. As a boy, his village is slaughtered by the evil Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), whose goal is to collect all the pieces of a powerful mask. Years later, when Conan has grown into a man (Jason Momoa), he seeks his revenge. Meanwhile, Khalar Zym and his sorceress daughter (Rose McGowan) are hunting for a "pureblood," Tamara (Rachel Nichols), which will help them complete a terrifying ritual. Can Conan find and stop the bad guy, and rescue the girl, before it's too late?

It starts with some stale dialogue, which is then delivered badly by all the actors (including McGowan, who usually understands the value of good pulp). Star Momoa spends most of his time attempting what he must have thought was a steely gaze, but which comes across more like a self-conscious leer. The lazy, ridiculous story surely would have been rejected by the pulps. The action sequences are clunky and incomprehensible, not to mention poorly paced, and the 3D effects are like flat images in a pop-up book.

That might be the worst of it, and indeed, it's enough to make audiences howl with unintentional laughter, but Nispel goes further. He has delivered perhaps the most gruesomely violent movie of the year, although without taking any kind of glee in the violence; it's extreme and horrifying. Last, though hardly least, is the movie's despicable treatment of women as props, and women and children as the targets of brutal violence. Even the Schwarzenegger movies were better. Don't be conned by this Conan.

Lionsgate has released a two-disc set that includes a digital copy, a DVD, and a Blu-Ray, which plays both the 2D and 3D versions (though none of this improves the film at all). Happily, there's a cool 18-minute featurette about the history of Conan, as well as an 11-minute featurette on Conan creator Robert E. Howard. Less interestingly, director Nispel provides a commentary track, and actors Momoa and McGowan provide another one, and there are featurettes on the film's fight and action sequences (presumably a primer on how not to do them).

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