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Banderas Tries to Salvage '13th Warrior'

Movie Review

Banderas Bravely Tries to Salvage '13th Warrior'

August 27, 1999|GENE SEYMOUR | FOR THE TIMES

Movies like "The 13th Warrior" aren't meant for prime-time consumption. You should shove them into your system on a Saturday afternoon, the way you gobble a hot dog at a ballpark. Thinking too much about the contents will ruin what little pleasure there is in the experience.

While there's much in this movie that may make you nauseous (and this isn't just a reference to the severed limbs and sliced guts), it speaks enough to the bloodthirsty 11-year-old in most male adults to explain, if not justify, its existence. Two words, of course, are sufficient explanation: Michael Crichton. When you're perceived to have a "magic touch" the way Hollywood perceives the author-creator of "Jurassic Park," "Disclosure" and "ER," you can get anything you want on screen--even if it's a long-forgotten novel like "Eaters of the Dead," Crichton's 1976 tale of 10th century Norse warriors liberating a kingdom from fear.

Crichton is listed as one of the producers of this dour, fast-paced adaptation of his novel, given the presumably less-confusing title "The 13th Warrior," which refers to Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), an urbane Muslim poet-diplomat banished from his homeland for messing around with the Wrong Woman. Ibn, as he's called for short, is wandering the "northern lands" before he finds himself exchanging pleasantries with a gang of brawling Nordic slobs with names like Herger the Joyous (Dennis Storhoi), Helfdane the Large (Clive Russell), Skeld the Superstitious (Richard Bremmer) and so forth. The leader of this band is Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich). That's all. Just Buliwyf. Being king means never having your unsightly characteristics advertised.

Anyway, Ibn reluctantly agrees to accompany these sword-wielding toughs on a mission to battle a mysterious tribe of saw-toothed savages who have been brutalizing a tiny kingdom across the sea. Once there, they find an elderly monarch (Sven Wollter) too sick to fight and a treacherous prince (Anders T. Andersen) whose agenda is never clearly defined. Neither is the wonderful Diane Venora, criminally underutilized here as the queen and forced to say stupid things like "I know a wise woman who can help." Which is at best misleading. No woman in this boy's blood-and-guts romance is allowed to be wise. Or anything else.

John McTiernan directs this cliche-ridden script by William Wisher and Warren Lewis with coldblooded efficiency. The cast does the best it can under the circumstances. But really it's Banderas who makes this thing bearable. If he doesn't have the same bounce and vitality he displayed in "The Mask of Zorro," neither does he submit to the gloom and ponderousness of his surroundings. His light stays on all the time, even in a relatively lost cause like this one.

* MPAA rating: R, for bloody battles and carnage. Times guidelines: violence, gore.

'The 13th Warrior'

Antonio Banderas: Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan

Vladimir Kulich: Buliwyf

Dennis Storhoi: Herger

Clive Russell: Helfdane

Richard Bremmer: Skeld

Sven Wollter: King Hrothgar

Diane Venora: Queen Weilew

Omar Sharif: Melchisideck

A Touchstone Pictures presentation, released by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Director John McTiernan. Producers McTiernan, Michael Crichton, Ned Dowd. Screenplay William Wisher, Warren Lewis. Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. Editor John Wright. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production designer Wolf Kroeger. Art directors Helen V. Jarvis, Richard St. John Harrison, William Heslup. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

In general release.

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