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Aliens and Vikings and Bears, Oh My!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Those yearning for a “sci-mythic” take on the Beowulf legend may raise their cups of mead to screenwriters Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain, whose decade-in-the-making tale of eighth-century Vikings facing off against alien predators has finally arrived on the big screen. Outlander, the undeniably silly fruit of their labors, is a bizarre pastiche of B-movie genres and clichés, but it’s not without its feather-brained charms.

For that, credit surely belongs to Blackman and McCain, whose affectionate approach to the material serves them about as well as can be expected. What could have inspired their curious devotion to a story that seems to cry out for a "Mystery Science Theater"-style deconstruction? Hard to tell, but there is an earnestness in their storytelling that makes its foolishness somewhat endearing.

The plot, in brief: Kainan (Jim Caviezel, of The Passion of the Christ), a humanoid warrior from a galaxy far, far away, crashes his spaceship into a Norwegian fjord only to discover that he’s been followed to earth by the Moorwen, a hulking beast bearing an uncanny resemblance to Gozer the Gozerian, of Ghostbusters fame. Captured by a tribe of boisterous Vikings, Kainan proves himself worthy of freedom -- he’s an accomplished swordsman, capable of vanquishing animatronic bears in a single stroke -- and enlists their aid in slaying his man-eating nemesis.

There’s a fair maiden involved, played with admirable gusto by Sophia Myles (Underworld), but why sweat the details? While Outlander boasts all the trappings of a traditional hero’s tale, the epic poetry of Beowulf is nowhere in evidence. Only John Hurt, on hand as the wise King Rothgar, seems capable of lending gravity to the proceedings, though not nearly enough to redeem Blackman and McCain’s leaden dialogue.

The result is a well-intentioned adventure that never quite generates the excitement it thinks it deserves, though there’s plenty of unintentional comedy to be found in the movie’s more bombastic passages. For those eagerly awaiting a consummation of the long-simmering tensions between aliens and Vikings, Outlander is certainly the only game in town. Those whose obsessions lead elsewhere would be wise to look for alternatives.