enre films don't get any sillierthan the 1999
Christopher Lambert star vehicle "Beowulf", and if you've been
mired in this corner of the cinema world long enough, this is no surprise.
Like Paul Anderson's "Mortal
Kombat" (which "Beowulf" apes with its cover-to-cover
techno soundtrack and opening title sequence) there's nary a logical
plotline or believable character to be found. All of this would seem to
indicate that "Beowulf" isn't worth your time. This may, in
fact, be true if you were inclined towards more artsy, substantive fare;
but for those used to, and indeed wallows with great joy in, the usual
Lambert brand of mayhem -- a lot of quips, shallow characterization, and
broad action -- "Beowulf" is deceptively entertaining.
The movie stars Lambert as the
titular Beowulf, a half-human, half-something-else mercenary of some type
who wanders into a bad situation on the outskirts of a post-apocalyptic
world. The world in which the movie exists within is hard to figure out,
as people travel by horse, medieval-type armor and weaponry are abundant,
but mechanical equipment like pulleys and speakers are in use. A sort of
amalgamation of grungy medieval society and industrial life, if you will.
In any case, it's into this anachronistic fantasy landscape that Beowulf
enters an outpost where the occupants are besieged by a killer creature
inside, and an army preventing them from leaving said outpost on the
The creature in question is Grendel, although I don't
think the name is ever said until it's mentioned off-handedly by a woman
credited as "Grendel's mother", played here by former Playboy
playmate Layla Roberts. It would appear that the mysterious Roberts, who
shows up intermittently in the film's first 70 minutes to tease the
audience with her surgery-given assets, has something of a grudge against
the outpost's present ruler, Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton). Again, we don't
really know this until toward the end, as much of the film concerns itself
with Beowulf and company hunting Grendel in the confines of the outpost's
corridors and secret rooms.
Not surprisingly, there's a lot of padding in
"Beowulf", especially in the first hour, where the pacing is so
off as to be disorienting. Most of the running time is spent on lesser
subplots that will hold no interest to anyone, most of all the audience.
There's the whole thing about Hrothgar's daughter, Kyra (Rhona Mitra,
and her "accidentally" dead husband; as well as Beowulf's
origins, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the
original poem in school. Luckily for us, director Graham Baker
("Alien Nation") knows enough about his audience that he parades
the oh so lovely Rhona Mitra in front of the screen at every given
opportunity. Thank you, Mister Baker.
Further convincing the audience to keep their eyes
open even if their ears start tuning out all those long, uninteresting
expository scenes, is Miss Mitra's wardrobe, which mostly consists of a
low-cut black leather bustier. Alas, Baker and company skimps on any
actual nudity from the then-unknown Mitra (and really, she's still
relatively unknown now), which genre fans should take note as a major
cheat. In fact, it's a shame Mitra is mostly put to poor use, as the few
action sequences that she is allowed to be in really sells her short. For
the most part she's kept in the background, and her one major stab
(literally) at the villain is her character tossing a spear at the
monster. The lack of credible action for Mitra's character wouldn't be so
painfully obvious if the film didn't keep trying to convince us she's
supposed to be a rebel woman warrior battling her "place" in
The script for "Beowulf" is serviceable,
and not surprisingly, it's enamored with the clichés of its own genre.
Gotz Otto gets the thankless role of the brooding/jealous/arrogant jerk
that gets in Beowulf's way, snarling his way through half of the movie
until -- tada! -- he realizes Beowulf is a swell guy after Beowulf saves
his life. Brent Lowe plays the supposed comic relief ("supposed"
because he's not very funny), whose character is an assistant weaponsmith
(thanks to nepotism) until the real weaponsmith (played by "Night
Court's" Charles Robison, no less) gets offed by Grendel during one
of his late-night jaunts around the outpost. Gee, didn't anyone tell this
guy there was a killer monster on the loose? I guess not.
Where "Beowulf" earns its right to be
called a good film to shut down one's brain to is in the energetic action.
The film opens with a fight between Beowulf and a gaggle of soldiers, and
there is a fight (drowning in techno, of course) about every 10 minutes or
so. Speaking of which, the techno is pretty annoying, unless you're one of
those people who loves techno regardless of the fact there's no variation
or that they sound exactly like the "Mortal Kombat" soundtrack,
only done in different keys (for fear of a lawsuit, one presumes). It's
also strangely entertaining to watch Christopher Lambert's stunt double
tossing in a series of back flips in just about every action scene the
character finds himself in. And when I say there are a lot of back flips
in "Beowulf", I mean there are a lot of back flips in
The other element that "Beowulf" excels in
is the set design. The outpost looks very unique, especially in its
combination of medieval grunge and post-industrial. Even so, there are
some designs that just doesn't work, and screams "creative leeway for
the production staff" just a bit too much. One is a gigantic sword
(which looks a bit like a chainsaw) that Cotton's character lugs around.
Can he even swing that thing, even the prop version? Otto's Roland is also
armed with his own ludicrously long sword. For her part, Kyra gets a tiny
knife that probably couldn't prick the skin of a fruit fly.
As genre films go, "Beowulf" gets brownie
points for being slightly more ambitious than its brethrens (the
"look" of the film, in particular). Shot for a reported $20
million, it's probably one of Lambert's more expensive direct-to-video
offering, and half that budget either went to the set designs, or into
buying the rights for all those techno music stolen from "Mortal
Kombat". The film does drag in a few places, mostly in the first
hour, and Grendel ends up getting killed way too easily. (Basically he
gets jumped in the back. Literally.) But for fans of Lambert's usual brand
of mayhem and action, "Beowulf" is a slightly above average
entry in the man's repertoire.