FILM REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night
Two remakes of 1980s-era movies face-off at the box office: Jason Momoa, at left, stars in Conan The Barbarian, while Colin Farrell becomes a vampire in Fright Night. (Simon Varsano/Maple Pictures and Lorey Sebastian/Disney/DreamWorks Pictures/AP)
In recent years, studios have offered a steady diet of films seemingly recovered from a 1980s yard sale. We've had Land of the Lost, G.I. Joe and The Smurfs (to name a few) all rebooted and reborn for summertime consumption. If ever there was a land of the lost, it must be Hollywood, where originality seems to be a dirty word.
As further proof, look no further than this weekend's box office battle: In one corner, we have Conan the Barbarian, helmed by horror aficionado Marcus Nispel. Facing off against the iconic Cimmerian is Fright Night from director Craig Gillespie, a filmmaker known for his comedic touch.
First, let's dispense with Conan. The biggest problem here is star Jason Momoa, whose version of the warrior king is more Fabio than furious. Yes, all the basics are there, beginning with infant Conan's battlefield C-section. We see him as a young boy forced to watch his father (Ron Perlman) die at the hands of a maniacal conqueror. We then jump ahead a decade, after Conan has beefed up on prehistoric protein. The 6'3" Momoa, an actor of Hawaiian-Irish descent, is a mountain of a man -- even his shoulders have shoulders. But physique aside, J.Mo is a little too civilized, too heroic even, to play the brutish barbarian.
Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan are spirited villains in Conan The Barbarian. (Simon Varsano/Maple Pictures)
When Arnold defined the role back in 1982, his accent may have been laughable, but there was nothing funny about the beastly gleam in his eyes. Recall the Governator's stone cold stare when he talks about crushing his enemies and provoking the lamentations of their women. Compare that to Momoa's feel good slogan -- Live, Love, Slay -- and he comes off as Conan, The Dude Barbarian.
As is often the case with these swords and sandals epics, it's the villains who truly get into the spirit of things. Stephen Lang goes from being Avatar's killer commander to power-hungry warlord Khalar Zym (is there any other kind?) in Conan. Extra credit also goes to Rose McGowan as Khalar's witchy daughter, complete with Freddy Krueger-inspired nails and make-up tips borrowed from Babylon 5.
For a creature feature of a different sort, we have Fright Night. The 1985 horror comedy is beloved by many and, thankfully, the new version is a bloody funny flick.
Where the new Conan spends half an hour on Conan: The Wonder Years, Fright Night starts fast and never stops. We're in the sun-kissed suburbs of Nevada -- a land of sprinklers and strollers and home to Charley, a teen more concerned about keeping up with the cool crowd than the rash of disappearances in his neighbourhood.
Soon, an ugly spectre from Charley's past appears: Ed, a nerdy ex-friend bearing the warning that his new neighbour Jerry is a vampire. Ed is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as McLovin, who's spun off a decent career as one of Hollywood's go-to geeks
Anton Yelchin portrays teenaged hero Charley in the horror remake Fright Night. (DreamWorks Pictures/Associated Press)
Quicker than you can say "snack time," Jerry is prowling around Charley's home, scoping out his single mom and his girlfriend while licking his carnivorous chops. Forget Conan, Farrell's Jerry is by far the best beast at the box office this weekend, playing the modern day vampire with an animalistic snarl, sniffing out the scent of his victims and hissing at stray sunbeams.
Overall, for a silly summer flick, Fright Night's cast is surprisingly strong. There's Toni Collette as the mom tempted by Mr. Tall, Dark and Hungry. Anton Yelchin as
Chekov Charley brings to mind a less-irritating Shia LaBeouf.
The challenge for a fast-moving film like Fright Night is keeping up the pace. Lucky for us, it has another great role waiting in the wings. After the first few chase scenes, David Tennant appears as a Las Vegas illusionist named Peter Vincent. He's a David Blaine-style bad boy who happens to be one of the world's leading vampire experts.
David Tennant stars as a Las Vegas illusionist and self-proclaimed vampire expert in Fright Night. (John Bramley/Disney/DreamWorks Pictures/Associated Press)
But the real magic behind this remake comes from the writing/directing team. Director Craig Gillespie approaches the material from a fresh perspective, aided by whip-smart writing by Marti Noxon. She learned her craft at the knee of geek guru Joss Whedon, penning and eventually producing TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her self-aware, snappy dialogue is a big part of what makes Fright Night such a surprising delight.
CONAN RATING: Two severed heads out of five.
FRIGHT NIGHT RATING: Four bloody stakes out of five.
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