With novel twists, 'Outlander' is enjoyable sci-fi

January 23, 2009|By Cary Darling | Cary Darling,McClatchy-Tribune

Director/writer Howard McCain takes the age-old story of the loner-hero who comes to the defense of innocents - think The Road Warrior and the classic Western Shane - and gives it a few novel twists in Outlander, an unexpectedly enjoyable science-fiction adventure that should be generating louder fanboy buzz than it has so far.

What McCain apparently realized is that you can't go wrong when you add a little alien-on-alien death-match action to the heroic mix. Toss in some Vikings, and you're golden.

James Caviezel (still best known as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) is Kainan, an astronaut from a faraway planet whose ship crashes in rural Scandinavia. Worse, his handy-dandy alien-Internet tells him that civilization in this wild part of the universe is only at "Iron Age" development, meaning he has landed far back in Earth's past. So that means no Volvos or Swedish supermodels for our hero, and he'd better brush up on his Old Norse really fast. (The latter is taken care of with a particularly painful brain scan that gives new meaning to the term "immersion method.")

He is taken prisoner by local villagers, but when they start dying in brutal ways, he realizes that the enemies of his home planet - the dreaded Morwen - have come to Earth as well. So prisoner turns defender of the realm, befriends the good king Rothgar (John Hurt), catches the fancy of the king's comely daughter, Freya (Sophia Myles), and even ends up brothers-in-arms with the king's archenemy, the man-mountain Gunnar (Ron Perlman), whose people are also being slaughtered by the Morwen.

Outlander never devolves into kitsch and is decently written and well-acted, and the effects - while it looks as if McCain could've used a couple more bucks to spend on them - do the job. The result isn't a great movie, but it's one that's more entertaining than most might expect.


(Weinstein Co.) Starring James Caviezel, John Hurt, Sophia Myles. Directed by Howard McCain. Rated R for violence and strong language. Time 115 minutes. ** (2 STARS)

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