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Film review: 'Pathfinder' walks violent path

Published: Friday, April 13 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ghost, played by Karl Urban, strikes a fatal blow to a Viking warrior in "Pathfinder."

Doug Curran, Twentieth Century Fox

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PATHFINDER — ** 1/2 — Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means; rated R (violence, gore).

Forget for just a moment that "Pathfinder" is a seriously silly and gloriously gory Hollywood remake of a lean, mean 1987 Norwegian film.

Accept it as a piece of moviegoing red meat, an adventurous, bloody, Vikings vs. Indians chase through the wilds of what is supposed to be North America, circa the year 1000. It's a B-picture with a stunning look and action beats to beat the band, a regular "Conan the Barbarian" meets "The Last of the Mohicans."

No, it's not history. Remember — "Conan the Barbarian," not Encyclopedia the Brittanica.

And Karl Urban ("Lord of the Rings"), who plays a Viking raised among Indians, would never pass muster with the buff Spartans of "300."

But it's kind of fun, a ride that, while it isn't remotely as thrilling as "300" or as epic as its antecedents — "Mohicans" and "Conan" — does transport us to an alien place and time. "Pathfinder" puts us in the moccasins of a man being hunted by the most ruthless killers in history.

In a corner of northeastern America that looks more like the coast of Norway (Vancouver, actually), a boy is left behind in the wreckage of the biggest Viking longship ever. The ships have to be super-size, here. These Vikings, great hairy beasts clad in leather, animal bones and chain mail, bring warhorses with them to their Vineland.

The boy is raised by the People of the Dawn, Native American Aquarians, they are — simple happy natives living in Hollywood peace. Darned if those old "Dragon" people (Norsemen) don't return for a bit of sin and slaughter.

They will "cleanse this land before we settle here," character actor Clancy Brown growls through beard and helmet, and in subtitled Norwegian no less. This will be a mismatch. The Indians have stone spears and wooden arrows. The Vikings have WMD — weapons of mass decapitation.

The Norwegian Indian must save those he can and give vent to his lifelong rage at bad parenting. He's got his old broadsword and he's out to make Spam out of these Vikings.

A chase ensues. The aged Pathfinder (Russell Means of "Mohicans") must lead his people to the west to safety. The Norseman must lead the Vikings some other way, picking them off as he does.

Video director-turned-filmmaker Marcus Nispel (George Michael's greatest video hits, and the 2003 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre") plays up the gore — zeroing in on every head lopped, every arm lost and every eye removed by battleaxe or blade. He keeps this thing moving, which is helpful, seeing as how Urban and his love interest, the real tracker in this tribe (Moon Bloodgood), don't dazzle us with their screen presence. And the movie's grasp of geography is as uncertain as its handle on North American meteorology.

The script is stuffed with Ancient Hollywood Native-speak, that stilted nonsense that puts the "noble" in Old School Hollywood "noble savages."

"He must find how own way. His heart is full of vengeance."

Guys, back me up. That's why we came — the vengeance thing. Because — Roger's rule here — no movie set in the Dark Ages, or among pre-Columbian Native Americans, can be half bad, a grim, fascinating and oh-so-foreign setting.

The design, the limited, primitive color palette and the breathless, primal violence make "Pathfinder" work about as well as any movie with this director and this cast and villains who speak Norwegian was going to work. It's primitive and bloody and butch and all about the ride, as long as you don't mind getting lost along the way.

"Pathfinder" is rated R for strong brutal violence throughout. Running time: 96 minutes.

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