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Conan the barbarian: bloody awful: UK riots have nothing on this mindless violence.

Do you want the good new or the bad news? Well, the good news is that this Conan the Barbarian does not herald the renaissance of Arnold Schwarzenegger's screen career; this time, the part of the bodybuilder-cummass-murderer is awarded to Hawaii-born heartthrob Jason Momoa. The bad news? Erm, Conan the Barbarian is still bloody awful.


Any doubts that Conan the Barbarian is one of those movies that makes you simultaneously snigger and gag are dispelled by the time the titular warrior has been born. Amid the melee of a battlefield, little Conan is brought into the world when his father (Ron Perlman) sticks a sword up his dying wife, yanks out a gory baby boy and holds him aloft with an almighty roar. As he grows up, the young scamp shows much promise, beheading his first pack of foes and dumping the proof at his dad's feet (they're lovely at that age). But halcyon days like this aren't to last: Warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) kill Conan's father and destroy his tribe in order to get their mitts on the final piece of an ancient mask possessing the (insufficiently explained) powers to transform Zym into a god. Conan? Why, he's ruddy furious.

Containing more "Raaarghs" than all three Jurassic Parks put together and more grunting than a pig farm, Conan the Barbarian is ceaselessly aggressive and breathlessly stupid, while not really camping it up enough to be tongue-in-cheek. If you're making a bad movie (and everyone onboard must have known it), you might as well make it purposefully so.

That's not to say there aren't one or two giggles along the way: Conan's flagrant sexism toward novitiate Tamara (Rachel Nichols) as he tells her to shut her trap, some incredibly farcical scenes of torture and slaughter (including one poor fellow getting his nose lopped off before having his new orifice poked until he wets himself), and enough breast-jiggling and soft-core slap 'n' tickle to keep a 13-year-old boy contented for a month.

Needless to say, as he perseveres on his quest, Conan learns zip about himself or anyone else and shows no signs of changing (those bloodthirsty warrior types rarely do). Yes, yes, this is an action film, and there are oodles of action (the plot can barely breathe for all the action), but Conan's as numb as a hand that's been sat on for three hours. The supporting cast does little to bail him out; Zym doesn't embody evil so much as he embodies a seriously underwritten villain. The whole build-up to his incredible mask-donning ceremony fizzles into anticlimax as well. And Marique's pseudo-lesbian blood-tasting antics probably won't earn McGowan her first Oscar.

Let's not dwell on the relationship between Conan and Tamara (tastefully consummated on a bed of straw). Although she discovers a knack for wielding a blade, this can't mask the fact that she's nothing but an archetypal damsel in distress, something perdy for Conan to rescue.

Conan the Barbarian's biggest crime isn't in being gratuitous or brainless, but in being mind-numbingly predictable and tedious. And for a film selling itself as 3-D experience, it's disappointingly tame in that department. Alright, we get a couple of arrow showers whizzing in our direction and gallons of fake blood sploshed in our faces. But there are times when you have to take off your glasses, to check Conan the Barbarian is actually 3-D at all.

When it came to critical reception, this film was always going to be a sitting duck, but Conan the Barbarian could have saved (some) face had it possessed a quest that wasn't so half-baked and had it let itself be more knowingly bad. "Come back, Arnie, all is forgiven," might seem an apt sign-off, but somehow that doesn't feel right, either. Let's just stop making these films altogether, eh?
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Title Annotation:Film review
Author:Noble, Will
Publication:The Sofia Echo (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Date:Sep 2, 2011
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