Consider the phrase: Norway, 709 A.D. There's nothing funny about it. And yet, if it appears on screen immediately following a shot of a spaceship hurtling toward Earth, you've got a film with at least one laugh more than " Bride Wars."
In "Outlander," the nuttiest hunk of junk in many months, Viking warriors and a stoic intergalactic traveler join forces to combat an enormous beetle with whiplash stingers. The bug resembles an AMC Pacer after being tricked out by "Alien" designer H.R. Giger. The movie recalls "10,000 B.C." in its historical veracity and straight-faced devotion to your camp enjoyment.
Full disclosure: I have yet to live down my guilt-free enjoyment of "10,000 B.C." People still come up and say, "Yeah, that '10,000 B.C.' … You owe me nine bucks for that one. Seriously. Nine bucks." One person's camp is another's pain.
Most of the juicy bits in "Outlander" arrive in the first half, not long after the splashdown of spaceman Kainan. He's played by Jim Caviezel, recently seen as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ." Surveying this strange new landscape, Kainan whips out his travel case, sets up a piece of equipment and whooosh: Into his brain the gizmo downloads centuries of Earth knowledge and fun facts, in a painful rush. Talk about cramming!
Nobody in Viking World believes Kainan's stories about the slimy stowaway known as a Moorwen until several gory Viking deaths pass, and even the skeptical King Rothgar, played by John Hurt, concedes they've got a problem.
The script by Dirk Blackman and director Howard McCain has issues of its own. My favorite line comes when Rothgar says to his eligible but headstrong daughter, "You're not getting any younger, Freya." The king, a born matchmaker, wants Freya (Sophia Myles) to marry Wulfric (Jack Huston), because, well, that name for starters. But in the presence of Kainan, whom the Vikings think came from across the sea or some such, she's confused. "All the women are talking about you," she says coyly, sounding like an 8th Century Norske sorority girl.
Shot mostly in Newfoundland, "Outlander" grows less risible and more familiar as it approaches its lengthy underground-cavern climax, pitting Viking and alien against alien's unwanted pet. One thing's certain about director and co-writer McCain, though. He knows how a Mixmaster works, and he's not afraid to wield it.
MPAA rating: R (for violence).
Running time: 1:45.
Opening: Jan. 23.
Starring: Jim Caviezel (Kainan); Sophia Myles (Freya); Jack Huston (Wulfric); Ron Perlman (Gunnar); John Hurt (Rothgar).
Directed by: Howard McCain; written by Dirk Blackman and McCain; photographed by Pierre Gill; visual effects supervised by David Kuklish; edited by David Dodson; music by Geoff Zanelli; production designed by David Hackl; produced by John Schimmel and Chris Roberts. A Third Rail release.
'Outlander' --2 stars