April 19, 2007

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Pathfinder (R)
A Viking boy is raised by Native Americans after his people abandon him during a little North American pillaging run some thousand years ago in Pathfinder, a movie that’s been bouncing around the movie schedule for the last nine months at least.

Make of that what you will.

As a boy, Ghost (Karl Urban) is left on the scenic shores of North America when he refuses to kill a Native American child as his Viking father commands. Alone and blonde and pale, he is taken in by a tribe and, though he might not be universally trusted, his Native American mom and dad love him quite a bit. Perhaps it’s because, when he’s some 15 years older, Ghost represents a free babysitter for their younger daughter.

“It’s my job to protect you,” he says to the little girl as they go out to the woods one day — him to hunt, her to frolic. Poor little girl, you think. Hope she had a nice life.

As expected, she’s mid-frolic when horn-helmeted, iron-faced Vikings come crashing out of the underbrush with their horses and their swords and their threats of eventual civilization annihilation. The little girl runs screaming back to the village, which is convenient for the Vikings in that she’s easy to follow and takes them straight to more people they can kill. Ghost returns to the village just in time to see his father slaughtered and is given a sword to participate in the Viking entertainment known as Taunt the Native American with the Insincere Promise of Freedom By Giving Him a Sword He Doesn’t Know How to Use. As it turns out, Ghost is pretty good at this game and instead of dying like he’s supposed to he takes out the eye of his tormentor. Then, he hightails it.

He’s determined to get revenge on his biological people who killed his adopted people, a task that becomes more difficult when, wounded, he’s found and cared for by a tribe allied with his own (or, I should say, that was allied with his tribe before Vikings hacked them to bits). He is particularly sensitive about getting this tribe into trouble because it includes the wise Pathfinder (Russell Means) and his daughter Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), with whom Ghost is quite smitten.

“Vengeance is bad,” Pathfinder says (I’m paraphrasing).

“Whatever, I’ve got a score to settle,” Ghost says. “Also, your daughter is hot.”

Eventually, Ghost learns that vengeance is bad and that if he does his killing for other reasons he will make a better hero. Also, he’ll get some tactical advice on how to beat an army of dozens when he’s only got two helpers.

Pathfinder is silly, of course, and I can see why 20th Century Fox hasn’t been in a big hurry to actually put it on some screens (maybe there’s a Native American cliché that doesn’t appear here; maybe, but probably not).

That said, it’s not awful. It feels a little like a pilot to some never-made, somewhat anachronistic action adventure series (and Urban would be perfect for that role as he played Julius Caesar on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and on Xena: Warrior Princess). It would be the kind of show that’s perfect for 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, a kind of comfortable, junkfood filler while you decide what the real entertainment for the evening should be. Sadly, Pathfinder won’t be syndicated to some unaffiliated TV station near you; you’ll just have to enjoy the Vikings and their battle with the blood-thirsty Ghost when they make it to Starz sometime late this summer. C

Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout. Directed by Marcus Nispel and written by Laeta Kalogridis (from a 1987 screenplay called Veiviseren), Pathfinder is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox Distribution.