It's been a busy week for filmmaker Howard McCain. Not only is he credited as a co-screenwriter on the 'obvious but not half-bad' prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, but his directorial debut is also popping up in (precisely 81) theaters, thanks to a nice, long delay on the back shelf at Weinstein Inc. (Mr. McCain is also writing a new Conan movie, so hey, good for him!) So while one of Howard's movies is a pretty familiar romp through the old "werewolves and vampires and guns, oh my" material, his first feature film is, well, it's pretty unique.
No, scratch that. McCain's Outlander is not so much "unique" as it is "two very familiar movies wedged into one sorta unique, definitely odd, package." Imagine I said the flick was "The 13th Warrior meets Predator" or "Reign of Fire meets Critters," and in less than 15 seconds you'd know if you were down for 115 minutes of Outlander. (Yes, it's almost two hours long, and that's one of the problems. More on that after this.) Movie one is a standard "viking battle" epic, complete with incongruous accents, anachronistic dialog, tons of bloody bodies, and a half-baked love triangle gummin' up the works because "chatty scenes" are much cheaper to film than is full-bore mayhem. Movie two is the story of a burnt-out space traveler who plummets to Earth (706 A.D, to be precise) on the hunt for a ravenous monster that killed his whole family, darnit! As such, movie two is laden with nifty gizmos, grey jumpsuits, and special effects that range from "hey, neat!" to "ha, funny!"
So basically, Outlander is a sci-fi action period piece with generous doses of horror, romance, picturesque scenery, second-hand costumes, and cliche as far as the eye can see. Interested yet?
Overlong by about 15 minutes (someone please snip the "shield game" sequence from the DVD cut!) and packed full of everything you love about basic genre-time movie-watching, Outlander is not exactly a good movie -- but despite a handful of obvious flaws (and a screenplay that, despite its weirdness, eventually plods straight into a parade of predictability), it's a movie that does deliver on its promises. In other words, if you were jonesing for a movie that SOMEHOW managed to wedge vikings AND aliens into the same two hours, then your prayers are answered: Outlander is just about as good as you could logically hope for, thanks in large part to some basic-but-effective tricks.
One trick is to hire some good actors, so when the movie gets a little too chatty for its own good, one can take solace in the fact that the blather is coming from the likes of James Caviezel (spaceman hero!), John Hurt (noble old warrior!), and Ron Perlman (psycho killer Viking!) Plus, speaking only as a red-blooded male who would (and just did) drive 30 miles (and into another state!) to see an action-sci-fi-horror-viking movie, I must say this: Even if Outlander were the lamest and all-time stupidest genre combo you've ever seen, it WILL allow you to look at Sophia Myles for about two hours. If that's not a silver lining, I don't know what is. (In other words, she's so pretty it makes my eyes hurt.) Here Ms. Myles plays the plucky young Viking princess with the British accent and the red hair and the blue eyes ... I also think she has some dialog. I don't really remember,
Even with all this colorful craziness, Outlander manages to slow down to a crawl on more than one occasion. Some would ask if the world really needs a Vikings vs. Aliens movie. I'd simply ask if we really need one that runs two dang hours. And while the movie moves at a brisk enough pace through most of the first two acts, the checklist of cliches is pretty backed up by the time we hit section three. It almost seems obvious to say it, but ... if you're going to make a Vikings vs. Aliens movie, maybe it should be a little less stone-faced than this flick. At least it's an unapolgetically R-rated romp, oozing as it is with vicious kills, dissected beasties, and one icky trip to the underworld.
But for all its weirdness and intermittent choppiness, there's an irrefutable B-movie charm to Outlander. Part of it is the novelty of seeing Vikings brawl against a space monster, but most of it is ... no, that's pretty much it. The sheer weirdness, the entertaining cast, and the rather solid action scenes. Maybe for the sequel we could get Vikings, aliens, and ... pirates! Oh, and cowboys.
Bottom line is that if you're considering this film, you're almost definitely considering it for DVD / cable TV consumption. On that level, I have no problem givingOutlander a bemused recommendation. Provided, of course, that the "two movies in one!" premise sounds like fun to you. It certainly does to me.