Ahhh...the sword and sorcery epic. Take a little bit of the whole Steve Reeves pumped and preened effete warrior ideal, toss in some barely clad babes with equally toned and trained tendencies, mix in wizards, magical powers, amulets, talis-men, omens, loin cloths, leather arm straps and far too much fur for PETA to condone and you've usually got something that sings the bodice apopleptic. Of course, the amount of disbelief suspension required to accept an enchanted gnome or a bedeviled donkey does push the parameters of most film fans tolerance levels. It's bad enough when we have to envision Sean Connery as a turn-of-the-century adventurer in league with other extraordinary gentlemen - or Julia Roberts as an actress without having to place them squarely inside some Middle Earth like situations. This is why the genre is so inconsistent. Without the ambiguous vacancy of Miles O'Keefe or Marc Singer to satiate your need for bland bruising brute force, all you'll end up with is garbage or Willow.
Time Barbarians understands this all too well. It realizes that a single misstep could turn your Conan into Krull lickety split. So instead of trying for realism or a special effects filled formula of action and/or adventure, filmmaker Joseph John Barmettler goes for something even more risky flat out incompetence. In the place of pageantry and pomp, we get ex-American Gladiators twisting their triceps. Where there should be fear and loathing, we get grad students in loin clothes screaming like flatulent frat boys after a Homecoming victory (WOOOOOOOO!). Villains vie for the title of most womanly ass in all of fiefdom and actresses without the talent to attempt such thespianism are given dual roles to try and tackle. The result is the reason home video was made a completely inept enterprise that sizzles with the kind of silliness that makes bad film fans foam at the mouth. Time Barbarians is terrible an we wouldn't want it any other way.
Doran is king of the Barbarians, a group of squat thrusters and powdered weight gain enthusiasts who believe that the stagnant, smelly, stick-filled forest is their own personal Xanadu. Along with his queen, the oddly named Lystra, the Barbs live a life of relative ease. They are protected after all, by a magical talisman that his highness inherited from his dithering (and now DEAD) grandfather. One day, after Dorie goes off to hunt, Lystra is raped and killed by Mandrak, a blasι bad guy with his own sense of purpose. He wants the enchanted item for its unlimited power. Instead, it sends he and his last remaining minion deep into the future.
Seeking revenge, Doran is given a magic sword, which will also aid in his ability to travel through time. But the wicked wizard-ess who helps him has a warning. He must retrieve the supernatural stone, or face the condemnation of his people. It's not long before Doran and Mandrak are trading broadsword blows in a Los Angeles warehouse. That's right, Do ends up in California circa 1990 and he's ready to chew dried dragon carcass and kick ass. Fortunately, LA is fresh out of Puff pastries. To the victor go the spoils, and the chance to return to their own era as a certified member of the Time Barbarians.
Time Barbarians is a total hoot, a helplessly ham-fisted mess of a movie that is a joy to behold from beginning to...well, about three quarters of the way through. Starring the over-brawny beefcake that is Deron Michael McBee, the sexual astigmatism of Joann Ayers (in a dumbfounding double role) and the pock marks and pony tail of Daniel Martine, this is an epic as ipecac, a laugh out loud romp through the mean as the beans jungle known as LA oh yeah, and some medieval marsh as well. Between the horrible acting, fascinatingly flawed fight scenes, the complete lack of authentic atmosphere and gratuitous inclusion of punk-like gang members, one instantly expects an experience more painful than pleasant. But thanks to the quirk-filled amateurishness of writer/director Joseph John Barmettler's vacant vision, your funny bone fills in where your logic radar fails you.
Let's begin with the premise Doran (just imagine the "Best of the 80s" fun one can have whenever people repeat his name which they do quite often) is supposed to guard his people's precious amulet, some sparkling rock of real importance that looks like a crystal one might pick up at a holistic health store on the Sunset strip. Since it was a bequest from his grandpa and supposedly protects the barbarian tribes from all manner of problems and pestilence (like loin cloth rot) he must keep it safe Marathon Man style.
So where does our 'roided up retard keep this object of unlimited power? Why, in a chastity belt slung around his dim as a dungenees crab wife's waist, that's where. Now, having a spouse with a sparkling coot, a visible vag ornament that when it catches the light right, radiates a rainbow of pretty, post-production colors may seem like a swell idea, but it does kind of defeat the purpose of protection. Crotch level to an unwashed barbarian woman without the benefit of modern feminine hygiene products was probably not what the female wizard who gave the item to Doran's relative had in mind. Or then again, maybe it was. Whatever the case may be, this is where our hampered hunky meat places the lunatic lucky charm.
Then there is Lystra herself, the Mrs. with the bejeweled bush. She is so dry, so dear in the torchlights tepid in her emotional range, that she registers the same sense of disconnected disbelief whether she's taking a bath, fighting for her life or getting raped by invaders. Realizing how important it is to keep her husband's precious gemstone of genealogy out of harms way, knowing that it means the barbarian's ample ass if it gets lost, stolen, folded, spindled or mutilated, she naturally treats it with all due respect and care meaning she tosses it nonchalantly in the weeds while skinny dipping with the girls.
That it's stolen isn't as surprising as the fact that old Ly does very little to get it back. She puts up her typical chick fight challenge, which consists of waving a sword around and then waiting until it is dislodged from her hand by a stiff breeze. Then she gives up and gets a little complimentary sexual battery for her efforts. One has to wonder what Doran sees in her especially since he often appears more in love with his own onerous bulk than anything else.
Then there is Mandrak, a bad ass obviously pissed off by the fact that he has the worst moniker of anyone in the movie. With a name that indeed sounds like the residual seepage accompanying a particularly nasty case of STDs ("Yo, Doc, when is this disgusting Mandrak ever going to clear up") and dressed like a combination of Zapp and Laura Brannigan this curvaceous creep is the Dark Ages first transgender terror. Let's face it, Mandrak's got a hinder that just won't quit - or maybe the better way to say it is, he's got a bum that director Barmettler can't quit showing us. The guy knows nothing about under-the-codpiece accessorizing, and his Flander's friendly be-hind is constantly out and open for the world to wonder and ogle at.
What's worse, Manny's got long flowing hair that would make a Japanese girl ghost jealous. So black and straight, caressing the hem of his tunic with Body on Tap terrificness, it is obviously the villain's most fetching feature especially when he's blessed with a face that makes a burn victim feel haute couture. Together with his stupid sidekick who ALMOST manages an era appropriate British accent, and a desire to do some unholy histrionics, Mandrak's muddled motives are a ridiculous respite from most of the logical rationales we see in mainstream fantasy films. He's not really out for revenge, or world domination. No, Mandrak just wants to make Doran angry. Sounds more like a lover's spat than the basis for a saga of action adventure proportions.
Sadly, director Barmettler doesn't stop the shenanigans here. No, he just keeps tossing out the oddball ancillary characters (the flat chested femme who is desperate to 'get wit' Doran's wineskin slugging friend) the weird ass costume design (Lystra and the women wear the most unflattering, flapjack flattening outfits imaginable) and the hopelessly horrible dialogue (our female wizard in the see-through top threatens to curse Doran's people with "wounds that will fester with their hate" if he doesn't retrieve the trinket from Mandrak). But his biggest blunder is the sudden shift to LA. For most of the movie, we've been groovin' on the back lot as back in time ideal. We've giggled as guys wear shorts shorter than the women they are watching over. We've enjoyed the absolute lack of physicality in the fight scenes. So why did Barmettler have to go time travel on us. Doesn't he know most big budget pictures can't effectively bend the temporal plane, let alone something made on the financial equivalent of a teacher's salary?
So we soon find ourselves in modern day La-La land, with Mandrak sporting a Goth guy gone gay all black ensemble and his slovenly sidekick decked out in a dyed red punk do. They deal with pudgy, portly gang members who being ALL Caucasian have to differentiate themselves from each other by various Vidal Sasson coiffeurs (the leader looks like Chris Penn with white chocolate poured on his head). Lystra is now reincarnated as sassy, sprightly cub reporter Penny Price, and she's even got her own missing link subordinate, an Italian scallion named Brice Porter (quite the handle for someone who looks like he should be serving saltimbocca at the family diner). Together, they are trying to get to the bottom of the crime spree in the City of Angels which believe it or not Mandrak has very little to do with.
Naturally, Doran drops into the middle of this muddle - bare chest pulsating with plump, plentiful pecs - and proceeds do the frantic freak fish out of water thing. Eventually, Penny can't say no to his too sweet cheek meat and they bump booties in a scene that gives new definition to casual sex (that reimagining being as non-erotic hair groping). As sequences drag and we wait...and wait...and wait...for Man and Dor to get together for their own climatic hoedown, we wonder where all the fun went. Barmettler had us when he kept his crap accented with Renaissance fair farce. He didn't have to leap into the lame Hollywood habitat to make his movie relevant. A few more failed swordfights, a couple more leather wearing girly men wielding sabers and we'd have gladly gone along for the risible ride.
But no, Time Barbarians fumbles its chance at classic cheesiness. Instead, it lumbers along to its illogical conclusion. Vendettas are settled, Doran wears the most homosexual outfit in the history of the sword and sorcery genre (denim and a pink muscle shirt? Girlfriend... PLEASE!) and the end arrives without much fanfare, drama, excitement or purpose. What was promising to be an almost alternative lifestyle take on the entire dungeons and dragons school of fantasy fiction becomes just regular and routine. As a filmmaker, Joseph John Barmettler has his flaws. Actually, he may just be all defects and imperfections. Had he just stayed with the wizards, the Wiccans and the forest filled with artificially enhanced bodybuilders however, we'd have had an amazing journey into bad movie heaven. As it stands, Time Barbarians is still well worth your time. You may have to make up your own third act though. True to its reputation, it turns out that LA is the cultural and entertainment quagmire of the universe.
Troma often gets trashed for the less than stellar transfers they offer, and most of the time said criticism is warranted. But Time Barbarians actually looks pretty good, it's direct-to-video goodness withstanding the reconfiguration into and then onto the digital domain. The 1.33:1 full screen print is perfectly acceptable, with just a minor amount of blurriness derived directly from the era in which it was created. Such soft focus shite was all the rage before camcorders came down in price, and filmmakers could fancy up their visuals with all manner of technological tricks. Colors are correct, details are a little diminished, but this is still a very good, very watchable DVD presentation.
This critic is convinced that, when it comes to cutting costs on their releases, Troma or perhaps it is just the particular filmmakers they champion scrimp on the sonic side of the budget. This movie is a mess aurally. Dialogue drops out, sappy orchestral music swamps everything in stringed cheese cacophony, and the sound effects seem off by a mangled microsecond or two. Even in semi-pristine Dolby Digital Stereo, we miss the occasional plot point due to an inability to hear properly. And with a movie as scant on storyline as Time Barbarians, that is NOT a good thing.
By now, the Lloyd Kaufman/Debbie Rochon fill-in-the-blank intro has gone from funny, to sad, to irritating, to nauseating, to funny again. Here's a suggestion for all you Troma fans out there who've grown tired of this fake-voiced bullskit. As Lloyd and Deb drone on and on, attempt your own imitation of the inserts. Get your best Frank Gorshin going and try to match and mimic the spoken sputum you hear. Suddenly, what seemed stupid will feel fresh with the flower of enjoyment all over again. As for the rest of the unexciting extras, it's PETA/Trailers/Make Your Own Damn Movie time.
Every now and then you just have to appreciate a movie for what it is. You have to forgive its flaws, appreciate its pathetic qualities and give in to the fever dream dementia of the individuals involved. By relishing the randomness, enjoying the folly as farcical, you end up with something that satisfies you in a primal, petty way. Then of course, there is Time Barbarians. This is a film that could be easily dismissed as an outright flop, an incomprehensible mess made even more maddening but its desire to hop epochs and soil contemporary society with its silliness. But once again, that would be harming its charms. Joseph John Barmettler is obviously a man with a vision one that's myopic, drenched in creative cataracts, and about as prophetic as an off-title tabloid psychic. But there is something really enjoyable here, an element beyond the bi-curious muscle mania and random topless tit shots. Time Barbarians has a dopey kind of deliciousness that makes his corrupted confusion hard to hate. While this Load of the Rings won't win any awards, it's a decent enough diversion.
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