This evening wins a very small and very silly prize for drama. I realized at 5:03 that the $5 movie theatre down the street started a round of movies at around 5:00 so I jetted from my place of work at 5:04 and dashed into the theatre at 5:19 just in time to enjoy five minutes of silence before Conan the Barbarian started. Well, to say it with a more hearty and satisfying grain of truth, five minutes of silence before the 20 minutes of previews started.
This particular venue is not only desperately quiet before the movie but also pounds down the previews like an addict at a Methadone clinic. Tonight’s total was six and started with “Red Tails” which seems to be following on the coattails of other war movies featuring under-appreciated units made up entirely of minorities. This time it’s WWII African-American fighter pilots. I can’t resist a war movie of any type so it’ll probably have my $5 when the time comes. Next we had “Ghost Rider” a movie with such a twisted and confusing preview that I’m not sure if the self-immolating skull-faced dude is a hero or a villain. We have established, however, based on the preview alone that if you take a whizz while you’re on fire it does hurt. (No, I’m not just making that up to be funny.) “Immortals” seems to be a standard epic adventure mythology flick. The new hero of the week seems to be Theseus and he’s going to save the world or destroy it or something similarly stimulating. Next up was “Drive” which seems to be one of your typical plotless thug movies. Somebody beats up somebody else to get something. Yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s also a new Sherlock Holmes movie coming out it seems making ready to make me spout profanity as I leave the theatre about how completely they’ve destroyed the spirit of the original Conan Doyle genre. And lastly, “Warrior” is apparently one of those stories about a war vet who comes home, doesn’t have any money and decides to become a UFC fight champion to make money to save the house or farm or pay for grandma’s operation. Whichever it is the preview, was nice enough to give away the climax in which the guy has to fight his own brother in the finals. What a devious twist! Pity they told me that BEFORE I gave them the $5.
So now after 20 minutes we get down to the movie which, as you will no doubt be unsurprised to learn, is your standard adventure slash-em up western-but-with swords bit. People with impossibly white teeth (and some with no eyebrows) fight each other, heal impossibly fast and fall from impossible heights without any harm whatsoever. Easy enough.
Excessively high level summaries aside, just take the Lord of the Rings and replace it with a weird squiggly, tentacle mask and you’ve about got it. In the beginning (ages and ages ago), evil necromancers (what’s any movie without necromancers, after all) created a terrible mask that they wished to use to enslave the whole world. Well, the barbarian tribes got wind of this and so they united and had a huge and terrible war. As a result they destroyed the mask and broke it into a dozen pieces that they scattered through the world under the protection of the tribes. That takes you up through about the opening credits.
Ages go by and people are still fighting about things but not always about the latest in fashion headgear. In one of these petty squabbles, Conan’s mother, herself a great warrior, is grievously wounded. With her last dying words, the pregnant woman gasps, “I want to see my baby before I die!” so in what I can only describe as the clumsiest C-section ever, Conan’s father plunges his sword into his wife’s abdomen without even looking down and within seconds has produced the instantly wailing infant. Conan’s mother quickly expires from the botched surgery while his father wails his grief that he didn’t pay more attention in nursing school.
More years go by and Conan (that’s pronounced COnan like Conan O’Brien, btw, not coNAN like that OTHER barbarian) grows into a boy. He wants to be a warrior so he and the other children his age are set a challenge. They must take an egg in their mouths and run around some mountain and the first one back without breaking the egg gets to be a warrior. So the boys run out some distance, then stop to beat the shit out of one another and break everyone else’s eggs when suddenly they’re attacked by a band of 7 or 8 large brutal-looking men twice their size. The other boys, of course, wisely run away but Conan wades in and decapitates the whole lot of bandits. In dramatic fashion, Conan arrives back at the village carrying the warrior’s heads and casually spits his unbroken egg on the ground. It’s at about this point that we’re supposed to believe he’s quite a bad-ass.
Well, as you might expect, not long after, some new evil dude decides he’s going to do the Blues Brothers thing and “put the mask back together.” He arrives at Conan’s village having gotten all but the last piece. Evil dude’s armies descend on Conan’s village (which has managed to field quite a sizeable fighting force considering it’s just a tiny village) and bloodshed ensues. It is at about this point that the movie engages in one of my personal movie pet peeves. Either through some complete failure in logic or a flaw in the editing process, evil dude sends in his horsemen, then he sends in his footmen and THEN he lets the town have it with the archers. It is just this sort of disregard for basic military protocol that makes the infantry cut all the archer’s bowstrings the night before a big fight. Evil dude’s footmen don’t want arrows in their backs either. Anyway, long story short, evil dude gets the last piece of the mask, Conan’s dad gets melted to death by a small vat of molten steel that seems to just stay hot FOREVER and evil dude escapes. Conan, however does too but not before he manages to cut the nose off of one of evil dude’s cohorts.
So flash forward several more years and Conan has buffed up into quite the justice-dealing hunk of man meat. We find him first fighting to free a colony of slaves by rolling boulders down from the mountains onto the camp. Doubtless he’d forgotten that groups of slaves chained together or in cages tend to suffer more from falling rocks than guards who can move about more freely, but his heart is in the right place. Conan and his merry band go on to free the slaves including several dozen topless women who remain topless for several minutes as they carouse in celebration. It’s not exactly clear WHY any of them are topless but it’ll certainly make the television edit of the movie shorter.
Conan now starts to pick up clues about the man who killed his father all those years ago. He tracks down one after another without any really notable results except when he finds the man whose nose he cut off as a boy. By now the guy’s wearing a leather face-bra to protect the hole in his face and when Conan finds him he takes the opportunity to shove his finger into the hole until an unpleasantness ensues. Apparently it’s not fatal unpleasantness, however, since Conan has a more brutal method of execution in mind for him. Mr. no-nose runs a slave community so Conan forces him to swallow the key to the front gates and then pushes him out amongst his slaves to be thoroughly “searched” for the key.
Alright, my patience with this movie nearly exhausted, we move into really fast-forward mode. Conan finally finds evil dude and his daughter (a witch). They have the standard cliché fights: fight in an impossible physical situation (this time on a large rotating wheel), fights involving two swords each, a fight between Conan and some sand djinns summoned by the witchy daughter, fight with a monster in a dungeon with a bunch of tentacles. Between fights, Conan manages to schtoop the pretty girl and say those magical words: “I live, I love, and I slay. I am content.”
All in all, it was exactly what you would expect. Excessive gore and insufficient plot but I will say that it had my attention. It was, of course, entirely and utterly predictable but it did have moments of amusement. The eye candy factor was fairly high and on that account I give it a five out of ten. It’s a movie that I will very soon forget, but it’s one that I paid five dollars for and you can’t take that away from it.