May 3, 2007

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Nomad: The Warrior (PG-13)
Before it had the uniting power of Borat, Kazakhstan had a warrior named Mansur who pulled the tribes together and inspired the Kazakh people to fight as one, a story we see dramatized in Nomad: The Warrior.

I’m fairly certain that Mansur, who is later in the movie called Abali Khan, is supposed to be the leader who fought the Dzungars throughout the 1700s and was elected Kazakh khan in 1771. This is all gleaned from Wikipedia and the at-times extremely obtuse information given in the movie, though, so I could be completely wrong. And in any event, both this great leader of Kazakhs and his best friend are played by talented but relatively unknown Latino actors. So unless there was some period of history of which I am unware where Spain held sway across the steppes of Russia and Asia, Nomad: The Warrior isn’t all that concerned with historical accuracy so I won’t worry too much about it either.

When Mansur (Kuno Becker) is but a baby, a traveling wise man saves him from death by the possibly-Chinese enemies of his people and hides him, Sleeping Beauty-style, until he can be trained in the warrior ways. Then Mansur and his best friend, the equally talented warrior Erali (Jay Hernandez), are called upon to help fight off the invading possibly-Chinese armies and try to unite the bickering tribes of Kazakhstan.

What’s so tough about that, you say?

Well, seems both our little Kazakhitos have fallen in love with the same woman, who is herself fiercely independent. In a more mainstream movie, her fierce independence would be spunky and sassy and would include the use of many clever comebacks and one-liners. In the sort of low-rent action movie that is Nomad, her fierce independence leads to her instant capture. So now, not only do our best friends have to battle their own feelings but they also have to battle their enemy to save their sweetheart and unite their people.

Nomad is at least 40 minutes too long. That secreted-away-as-a-baby stuff could have been handled in half the time. We spend far too long sitting in seemingly pointless conferences between tribesmen where nothing happens. And the love story, which was possibly supposed to give the movie those oh-so-important, foreign-audience-capturing “universal themes,” is tedious.

Had Nomad cut out all these extraneous bits of nonsense it might have been a delightfully weird B movie. About half the actors have dubbed voices. Why not have everybody speak English (as Hernandez and Becker did)? Or nobody? The movie shrugs its shoulders at this (as it does with other things, such as believable sets and realistic dialogue).

The movie benefits from a significant amount of fighting, which, even when you’re not sure who is fighting whom and why, is kind of entertaining in that fight-scene-in-Hamlet-as-performed-by-high-schoolers way. In a movie like this, perhaps they slipped and some of that blood is real. It’s obvious that not a lot of time was spent in swordfight training and so we get scenes where “expert” warriors hack away at each other like kids swatting at a piñata.

The acting is sometimes OK (Hernandez, after all, was pretty decent in crazy/beautiful and even in Six Degrees) and sometimes confused, with characters substituting that middle-distance stare for emotion or expression.

In other words, Nomad has the makings for a light but fun camp classic — sort of a sorbet to cleanse the palate between the full cheese of a BloodRayne and a fill-in-the-blank half-baked martial arts movie. As is, it’s a little too weighed down by unnecessary and unsuccessful attempts at making a serious film. C-

Rated R for violence. Directed by Sergei Bodrov and Ivan Passer and written by Rustam Ibragimbekov, Nomad: The Warrior is an hour and 51 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by the Weinstein Company.