If you thought the Viking Age was uninteresting in that old history textbook Pathfinder does it one better by actually upping the boring ante. In fact even ye Old World buffs out there will be disoriented. It’s set “600 years before Columbus ” when “people had to guard America’s shores from marauders.” One of those most noble guardsmen was Ghost (Karl Urban). Native Americans happened upon him as a young orphan boy and decided to raise him as one of their own--even though he was never truly accepted due to his unknown ancestry. Fifteen years pass and Ghost once a frail child has blossomed into a beast-sized man capable of warding off almost anyone. His size and skill set come in handy when Norse invaders look to raise hell in his village. Armed with horses swords and thorny helmets they kill and maim everyone in sight and mostly get away with it. That is until they mess with the object of Ghost’s affection Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) thereby seriously messing with Ghost. You don’t put Ghost in a corner! Beefcake actors are apparently a dime a dozen these days and Pathfinder lead Urban does nothing to separate himself from the supporting actors of his own movie let alone from the aforementioned Hollywood stereotype. Looking like a runway model on steroids the Lord of the Rings and Bourne Ultimatum star only stands out aesthetically here and is in danger of being pigeonholed and typecast for a long time to come. Unless he can somehow show a different side Urban will wind up on a long list with the likes of wrestlers-turned-actors who can’t act. Thing is in Pathfinder he can’t even manage the uber-virility his character is meant to project. Bloodgood (Eight Below) meanwhile owner of the best non-porn name in showbiz holds her own and softens things up in a movie otherwise completely dominated by males. And finally there's veteran Native American actor Russell Means (Natural Born Killers) who as the Pathfinder himself at least lends some desperately needed credibility. Looking up a director’s name and past work isn’t a fair way to pre-judge his or her movie but it may sometimes hint at what you’re in for. Take Pathfinder for example: Director Marcus Nispel's past work includes Texas Chainsaw Massacre and music videos. Massacre was terrible and music videos are stylized; thus we arrive upon Pathfinder which is terrible and stylized. When parents complain about violence in the movies this should be their focal point. Nispel like other offenders is unable to ever refrain and beheadings and such in all their slow-motion glory resemble fun video games. Not that his lack of morality makes Pathfinder the crap it is however. That blame rests on his apparent decision that such violence is all moviegoers want to see. And it is perhaps the sheer lack of a story that accentuates how mediocre the violent scenes really are--scenes that are meant to leave us agape in amazement as if we’ve never seen a loose eyeball on the screen before. On a (lone) positive note though the set design seems up-to-snuff.
Jesse James (Colin Farrell) his brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) and his cousins Bob (Will McCormack) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) come back to their farms in Missouri after fighting for the South in the Civil War. Yet when they return they find a corrupt railroad baron Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) has captured the deeds to their homes to build his railroad. When Rains uses unnecessary force to get them off the land James and his comrades set out to ruin Rains and his plans and seek the ultimate revenge. They become the infamous James-Younger gang led by the charismatic James who rob banks and blow up railways. As Rains and his henchman Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) launch the biggest manhunt of the Old West James starts to lose interest in the gang's activities as a rivalry between he and Cole springs up and as he falls in love with the beautiful Zee Mimms (Ali Larter). But can James escape justice?
Irish-born Farrell has certainly been making a name for himself especially with his buzzed-about performance in last year's indie fave Tigerland. Unfortunately he chose to make this film rather than something a little more challenging. He does a nice job playing the legendary outlaw--and he looks pretty damn good doing it--but the part doesn't require much. However all the boys including Macht as Frank James Caan as Cole Younger and McCormack as Bob Younger actually join Farrell in trying to flesh out real characters rather than cardboard cutouts--and nearly succeed. The camaraderie between them may have been carried off-screen as well. However the rest of the cast doesn't necessarily follow suit. Dalton is dull as Pinkerton with an unrecognizable accent and Larter really doesn't have a clue what she's doing although next to Farrell she looks fetching. Anyone would.
The main problem with the film once again didn't have much to do with the acting--but everything to do with the terribly clichéd script. All the great acting in the world can't help trite dialogue and predictable plot lines. And these young actors certainly can't rise above the material. When Mama James (played by the completely wasted Kathy Bates) prays her son comments "her talking to the Lord is not what worries me it's that He talks back." Clever very clever. Face it the western genre is a dying breed. Anyone remember the really bad 1990 Young Guns? The Academy Award-winning Unforgiven may have been the last great and original Western to come out of Hollywood. Or maybe they finally need to put the Jesse James story to rest. Sure the infamous character makes a compelling antihero but it's been given the big-screen treatment too many times to count. It's time to give it up.