`Warrior': Off with its head

August 27, 1999|By Chris Hewitt | Chris Hewitt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

With its elaborate costumes, manly grunting, gruesome bloodshed and hand-to-hand combat, the medieval war movie "The 13th Warrior" is like the WWF, but with horses and entrails.

That's not what director John McTiernan wants us to be reminded of. He'd like us to remember "Braveheart," which, like "The 13th Warrior," combined gruesome, medieval battle scenes with the kind of macho sentimentality in which big guys climb off their deathbeds in order to get themselves butchered.

The thing is, in "Braveheart," we knew who Mel Gibson was and what he was fighting for. In the often bewildering "The 13th Warrior," you never get answers to the most basic questions: Who are these Nordic warriors? What do they hope to achieve? And, given all the pillaging and the decapitating they do, where do they find time to apply all that eyeliner?

Antonio Banderas plays an Arab who travels to an unnamed, eyeliner-loving land to join unnamed warriors in fighting "a terror that must not be named" for reasons that must not be named either, I guess. The "terror" is a bunch of man/beasts who look like bears and eat human flesh.

The battle scenes are stitched together with lots of voiceover narration, which is usually a sign of a movie that has some story-telling problems. That's certainly the case here. "The 13th Warrior" is handsomely made and persuasively acted, but there's either not much going on or a lot going on -- I can't decide which.

I do know that, by the end of the film, I had forgotten what happened at the beginning. And, when I was watching the closing credits, which list such characters as "Screaming Boy," "One-Eyed Man" and "Sleeping Girl," I wanted to add "Puzzled Viewer."

`The 13th Warrior'

Starring Antonio Banderas and Omar Sharif

Directed by John McTiernan

Released by Touchstone Pictures

Rated R (adult subject matter and violence)

Running time: 103 minutes

Sun score: *1/2

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