The 13th Warrior (Banderas) is bestowed with the duty to defend a village from a tribe of cannibal creatures.
Battered by a maelstrom of post-production wrangling, rumours of McTiernan's creative tiff with producer Michael Crichton, which left the director locked out of the cutting room, this sprawling actioner is, predictably, a glorious mess: fabulously shot, pungently authentic and narratively cuckoo.
Sticking faithfully to Crichton's least film-friendly novel, Eaters Of the Dead, it is a kind of Scandy Western set in 922 AD with a macho clan of wavy permed heavy rockalikes, teamed up with dishy Arab emissary Ibn Fadlan (multi-purpose ethnic star Banderas ) - the 'lucky' 13thwarrior of the band - to defend a village from a tribe of cannibal creatures.
Early on, there's plenty of testosterone flying around as Fadlan is inveigled into the Viking brotherhood, issues of clan politics are sorted (typically by lopping someone's Head off) and defences erected. Then the bad guys arrive - in one sequence a magnificently realised trail of a thousand flaming brands - take on Metallica, leave, taking all the bodies home for a slap-up feast. Then they do it again. And again . . .
McTiernan, obviously in a mood for experimentation, shoots much of the furious action with handheld cameras giving the movie a vital, realistic feel, which, mixed with the Canadian vistas that stood in for Northern Europe, the fantastically grim art direction and leather clad hunks, makes for a great looking movie. Strange then that the choreography is so underwhelming. the series of should-be-awesome battlefield confrontations are bitty and uninventive and nowhere near gory enough.
The plot development is non-existent, consisting of little more than Fadlan's culture clash and a mad old crone telling them to sneak into the enemy camp and slay the weirdo witch woman who leads them. Then it's the final showdown. In slo-mo. In the rain. Motive, pathos and characterisation are not on the agenda.
Relentlessly silly then, but there is a deal of grungy pleasure to be had from the Valhalla-charged babble. But, your enjoyment of such nonsense will depend on your capacity to stomach big swords, big hair and no brains. Its appeal may be somewhat limited.
Relentlessly silly, but with some pleasure to be had from the grungy Valhalla-charged babble.