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13th Warrior, The

Published: Saturday, Aug. 28 1999 5:04 p.m. MDT

To be honest, even the comic strip "Hagar the Horrible" couldn't make Vikings seem as silly as "The 13th Warrior" does.

In fact, this awful horror-fantasy film makes a whole lot of things seem silly, including its star, Antonio Banderas. He should never have taken the lead role — that of an Arab, no less — in this overly violent nonsense.

Of course, it's not as if he and the cast were working with award-winning material to begin with. The film is based on "Eaters of the Dead," possibly the worst novel Michael Crichton has ever written, and this film isn't even a passable adaptation.

To make things worse, numerous reshoots and re-edits have resulted in a nearly incoherent story line, and the whole thing suffers from a deadly lack of intentional humor.

Banderas plays Ibn Fahdlan, a poet who is banished from Baghdad, only to become an ambassador to the "northern lands." There, he quickly befriends a band of Norse warriors, despite their obvious cultural and language barriers.

Unfortunately for him, that also means Ibn must accompany 12 of them as they try to save a kingdom threatened by hordes of seemingly unbeatable foes. And though they successfully repel a nighttime invasion, it becomes apparent that it's only a matter of time until they're slain by the cannibalistic fighters.

With their numbers dwindling, Ibn and the others undertake an even more desperate mission — sneaking into the primitives' cave and killing their chief, as well as their "spiritual" leader.

Though the explanatory first half is snore-inducing, the action does pick up in the second half — which isn't too surprising, considering the director is action specialist John McTiernan (responsible for the first and third "Die Hard" movies). But by then it's far too late to save the film.

The numerous, clashing accents of the cast members certainly don't help. In addition to Banderas' undisguised Spanish accent, this particular Norse tribe seems to be made up of English, Scottish and even German actors, judging by their particular vocal inflections and characteristics. And frankly, the bunch of them seem to be suppressing giggles.

Banderas doesn't look too pleased to even be in the film, even though he does display a nice flair for the physical side of his role.

Given how bad the script is, you have to wonder how the filmmakers managed to snare Omar Sharif, who has a minor, albeit expository, part.

"The 13th Warrior" is rated R for violent swordplay, hand-to-hand fighting and arrow fire, surprisingly graphic gore, partial male and female nudity, some crude sexual talk and use of some mild vulgarities.

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