Crash-landing somewhere between Jabberwocky, Erik the Viking and Predator, the midbudget B-movie Outlander is a harmlessly entertaining, old-fashioned epic that fuses a SciFi Channel'esque space-colonization parable with an Iron-Age period actioner.
James Caviezel plays Kainan, a stoic space traveler whose ship crashes into the lake of an isolated-though-powerful petty kingdom in Norway in the 700s. His ship's A.I. uploads him with the native language (a painful process that's logically wasted because everyone in the movie speaks English) and he quickly discovers that not only is he stranded in a strange land, but an alien monster with a personal grudge has followed him there. When the monster rampages through his newfound homeland, Kainan must earn the trust of the kingdom ' including the requisite beautiful maiden ' and help them defend their existence.
Caviezel's performance is as straight-faced as the production, but he's a weak lead; he doesn't recall Mel Gibson's outsider-who-saves-a-town in The Road Warrior so much as Jack Shephard from Lost, a quiet leader-by-default who's more concerned with preparing for the next move than assuredly moving.
The film is co-written and directed by Howard McCain, a cheez-pic vet suddenly thrust into relevance after being tasked with two big-budget epics set for next year: Amazon, rumored to star Scarlett Johansson, and (shudder) Brett Ratner's updated Conan. With Outlander, McCain's made an unassuming adventure that strikes true at well-worn plot points (some of them laughable, namely the LOTR-reeking King's-daughter-as-tomboy-warrior line) and savors the classic structure so much that it's infectious. We know what's coming at every point and the movie doesn't hide it, but instead begs, 'Isn't this great?â?�
Great? No, thanks to the bargain-bin CGI and the Jared Leto ringer playing the mighty Wulfric, a showy swordsman next in line for the throne who feels threatened by then embraces Kainan. ('We are friends,â?� emphasizes Kainan at another chuckle moment.) But McCain wisely eases the transition from space to Norse by dragonizing the looming monster ' we, and the villagers, understand dragon-slaying completely and can get on board right away.
Another nice surprise is the parallel McCain draws between the brutal, ongoing space colonization that Kainan took part in (including the genocide of said monster's kind) and the relentless pillaging and land-grabbing of Viking-era Scandinavia. 'We're just like your people,â?� Kainan confesses in an intimate moment. There are shades of gray within the raids this village withstands ' the natives didn't become powerful peacefully, one assumes ' and although the film doesn't exactly stop to consider why Kainan, with such a burdened mind and a guilty past, would kill outside villagers in defense of his adoptive people (though self-preservation certainly factors in), there is nuance to the battles.
Outlander is the kind of film you don't see in theaters too often anymore (it's distributed with clear reluctance by the Weinstein Company, and Orlando is one of only 15 cities nationwide to get a run): a solid, rainy-afternoon escapade that actually enjoys its own genre.