Review: Vikings team up with a spaceman to battle an alien monster in the goofy Outlander

OK ... pretend you're a little kid, and you reach into your toy chest and pull out your Buzz Lightyear (or Major Matt Mason, if you're old school) and a bunch of Viking action figures (maybe from Todd McFarlane's Viking Spawn series?), and you have them fight a big, scary dragon (you can improvise with a dinosaur figure). That'd be kinda awesome, right? A great scenario that, once you'd staged it, with the spaceman and the Vikings victorious on the edge of the chair you had stand in for a cliff face, you'd know you'd really earned that fluffernutter-on-Wonder Bread sandwich afterward.

The James Caviezel flick Outlander (Weinstein Company $19.99), now out on DVD after a nanosecond-long theatrical release in mostly small-market theaters, is born of that very same toy-chest mentality. It is, indeed, about a space man (Caviezel) crash-landing in Norway in the year 709, a space monster that escapes from the wreckage of his ship, and how Caviezel and the local Viking community team up to defeat the hostile beastie.

The conflict, of course, with a hero coming from afar to save the a bunch of mead guzzlers from a critter that's chomping them into human lutefisk, hits the same notes as Beowulf, making Outlander part of a mini-genre of SF-riffing Beowulf retellings that include the 1999 Christopher Lambert flick Beowulf and the Antonio Banderas vehicle The 13th Warrior. Come to think of it, Outlander has the same basic plot as Teenagers From Outer Space and Alien Trespass, only without the Vikings.

The problem with Outlander is that it is such a glorious, goofy, wonderful idea (who doesn't want to see a movie with spacemen and monsters and Vikings?) that the movie itself can't match the vigor of the premise. At the eight-minute mark, we've already had a spaceship crash and a monster attack (albeit off-screen) and seen Caviezel suit up for a monster hunt. Then the movie gets a case of narcolepsy, nodding off at really inopportune moments ... as in, whenever the flick gets interesting. (Do we really care who the Viking princess is going to marry?)

The pacing and the narrative get gummed up, and the disparate elements don't gel with the kind of genre-jumping dementia (historical epic, horror/monster movie, action) that, say, Christophe Gans infused into Brotherhood of the Wolf. There's no sense of urgency, and maybe as much as half an hour of Outlander should have been cut, including a useless flashback to Caviezel's past with the monster and its species that dilutes the mystery of the man and the beast.

The cast is as good as they can be, given the material. Any reunion we have of Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his adoptive human dad (John Hurt) is welcome, especially when they're outfitted as Viking warlords trying to bash each other's heads in. (Perlman swings a mean war hammer!) But no cast can overcome the fake "D&D" mead-hall boisterousness of Outlander, or the really clunky writing that is as stiff as the armor the characters wear.

Outlander might be worth a look for the sake of some really good visuals cooked up by director Howard McCain (there's some nifty, moody use of snow and moonlight), but on the whole Outlander is just not outlandish enough to be the kind of fun it needs to be.

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