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Hipster Holy Grail: Time Barbarians (1990)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

When Time Barbarians isn't boring your soul into oblivion, it's incredibly sleazy.  But not in the fun way.  There's almost nothing of merit here and I regret that I watched it.

My Rating: 0.5 / 5 (Workman Bad Movie, Almost a Fake Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

We open in the past, where Doran (Deron McBee), a mighty warrior, hangs out in the forest with his girlfriend, Lystra (Joann Ayers), supposedly another mighty warrior.  (Did I mention they're in the forest?  Oh, good, because I'd hate to leave out that detail seeing as how the first half of the movie is spent wandering around the goddamned woods.)

Doran and Lystra are the king and queen of a barbarian tribe.  I take issue with this for a few reasons, most notably the fact that tribes do not, by definition, have a monarchic structure.  They're tribes.  If you want a king and queen, then you need to have a kingdom.  And since there's only like ten barbarians and they live in shitty tents in the woods, there's no way in hell this is a kingdom.  So I'm going to call Doran a "captain" instead.

As captain, Doran's principal duty appears to be gathering food.  And as co-captain, Lystra's principal duty appears to be protecting a sacred amulet of nebulous power.  The two make out and talk about how they'll be in love forever, and then they part ways to go about their captainly duties.

Lystra takes the sacred amulet to a river where a couple of her lady barbarian friends strip and take a bath.  Except, they don't actually bathe.  They just sit around with their breasts hanging out and talk about which boys they like.  Then they splash each other a little bit.  Did I mention the movie is like 15 minutes in by this point and nothing has happened?  I was dying for anything to happen to break up the monotony.  (And yes, I'm including the breasts in my use of "monotony."  Way to make nudity boring, Time Barbarians.)

And of course, Time Barbarians decided to answer my prayers in the worst possible way.  It's like a monkey paw wish.  No sooner than I had screamed at the TV to get on with it, Mandrak (Daniel Martine), the villain, shows up.  He's got no back story whatsoever - he's just an asshole with a severe rape itch.  He and his second-in-command, Stako (Louis Roth), find the bathing beauties and beat them all up.  Then Mandrak tortures, rapes, and kills Lystra and takes the sacred amulet.

Then there's like another ten minutes of nothing happening, but the upshot of it is that Mandrak realizes the amulet will let him travel through time.  He and Stako vanish into the future.

Doran takes his sweet-ass time coming back home to find out what's happened.  And that fucker doesn't even have any meat when he comes back - what the hell was he doing in the woods?  What a shitty captain.

He goes on a blood quest to kill all of Mandrak's men (there's like three of them) in as boring a way as possible.  I hate to be a dick about it, but this movie is sooooooo slow that I couldn't pay attention.  In fact, there's a good chance that Doran actually fights Mandrak before he leaves to the future, because a recurring joke (sorta?) later on is that Doran is wearing Mandrak's severed hand on his belt like a trophy.  Possibly this happened before the events of the movie and so Mandrak raped and killed Lystra in retribution.  It doesn't matter, honestly.

The point is, eventually Doran finds out that Mandrak has escaped, but a big-chested lady wizard shows up and tells him he can go through time by using a magic sword.  Doran gets the magic sword and gets hit with time electricity, and finally the movie can start.  Time counter?  Forty goddamned minutes.

Guys.  Your movie is called Time Barbarians.  You don't wait until the halfway point to go through time.  All this shit in the woods should have been a ten minute intro at most.

...or maybe not, because once again, Time Barbarians won't give me what I want without a touch of pain.  I'd like to tell you that the movie's second half is the better part, but that's misleading.  To it's credit, yes, things do pick up a little bit briefly, but then it sloooooooows way back down and actually becomes even more dull.

Y'see, right after Doran gets zapped by magic, we cut to Penny, a reporter in modern day Los Angeles who is also played by Joann Ayers, and who appears to be the reincarnation of Lystra.  Penny is filming a segment with her cameraman, Brice (Michael Ferrare), in a shitty part of town.  Her whole piece basically just boils down to her saying, "Man, crime sucks. I wish somebody would stop all the crime forever."  And then some criminals pop out for some attempted rape.  (Gee, I haven't gotten tired of that yet.)

Brice chases after them and briefly injects the movie with some much-needed energy when he beats up one of the goons with his camera, then spin-kicks another guy.  But then he just keeps filming Penny from a distance and it's not clear if he plans to intervene at all.

Doran suddenly appears - without his sword - and booms at the thugs to let Penny go.  When they threaten him, he first fights them with his fists.  Then he does one of the only things I genuinely found enjoyable in the movie: he reaches to his back to grab at nothing, the sky crackles with thunder, and his sword magically materializes out of nowhere so he can slice at people.  Then he puts the sword to his back again - BOOM! - and it disappears.  That's right.  He has a time-traveling sword that he can will into or out of existence.

I wouldn't dwell on this detail so much except that it's my only oasis in this artistic desert and I want to give credit where credit's due.

The thugs run away and Penny thanks Doran.  They get to talking and there's briefly a bit of fish-out-of-water humor when Doran tries to figure out how chain-link fences work.  Penny decides to take him home with her, and Brice goes back to work to share his footage with the boss.  I guess the near-rape footage is salvageable enough for a broadcast.

("Tonight's top story: I almost got raped in an alley.  Here's a clip.")

Then the movie just completely runs out of gas.  You'd think this would be where it can gain some footing and maybe find some life, but you'd be wrong.  Time Barbarians has no idea what to do with its premise, so it just ignores it.

Doran is a meathead from the past who's stuck in modern day LA.  I can think of a hundred gags you can do with that.  They might not be good, but at least they would be something.  Maybe he can walk by a gym and see a bunch of bodybuilders, and then he can take out his sword and go, "Friend or foe?!" and the bodybuilders can freak out.  Or maybe he can chase after a pigeon in the park, and then you cut to him roasting it over a bonfire on the street corner.  Or he can look at a pair of sneakers and say, "What wizardry is this?!"

There's none of that.  Doran has virtually no interaction with the modern era outside of hanging out at Penny's apartment.  When we next see him, he's even wearing a full set of modern clothes and has no reaction to them whatsoever.  He's also incredibly polite and respectful of Penny's property and personal space.  In other words, he's not acting like a barbarian.  If that's how you're going to play him, then what's the goddamn point?

I'll just plow through the rest of the plot quickly because it's all agonizingly slow and doesn't deserve much attention:

The spirit of Lystra eventually wakes up inside Penny and she falls in love with Doran.  Then Mandrak - remember him? - sees a broadcast of Doran on the news and gets cranky.  Mandrak tells Stako that they have to go kill Doran, so they kidnap Penny in order to lure him into a trap.  The trap doesn't work because Doran is being protected by the power of the sacred amulet.  He uses his time sword to deflect all of Mandrak's attacks (up to and including a semi-automatic machine gun), then kills Mandrak and Stako.

Now that he has the amulet, Doran goes to some railroad tracks and walks into the distance, where he vanishes into the time electricity again.  Penny gives another report about his heroism and the movie ends.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

I'll try to be nice here and start with something positive.  There's one moment that I liked and which would actually be a good character turn in a better movie.  When we eventually catch up with Mandrak in the future, he's sulking in a bar with Stako, and the two of them commiserate over a drink while saying something like, "There were no riches in this land, friend. We made a mistake coming here."

I dug that.  A villain who was the big fish in his pond in the past comes to present day and realizes that now he's just a guppy in the ocean?  That's awesome.  Mandrak could become this humble dude who has hit hard times and has no hope.  Briefly - very briefly - I was thinking the movie might turn into a weird buddy drama where Mandrak and Doran would realize the modern world is callous and too much for either of them to handle, and then they'd have to put aside their differences and work together to survive.  How cool would that be?

But that didn't happen, because this movie is terrible.  I don't think I need to repeat again just how slow this movie was, but in case you missed it: fuck this movie.  (Also, apologies for the profanity this week.  I normally try not to be this vulgar, but boredom turns me into a thirteen year-old.)

The pacing in this movie is just plain unforgivable.  There's absolutely no reason for it to be as dull as it is.  Why would you make your movie about time traveling barbarians and then do nothing whatsoever with the time travel premise?  They could've just stayed in the woods the whole movie and you wouldn't have lost anything.  I'd still have complained about it being boring, but at least I wouldn't feel betrayed.

Hell, it's 96 minutes long - you can take that down to 75 minutes and still technically call it "feature length."  I'd allow it.  Cut 20 minutes of your stupid prologue out and you've already made it better.

There's so little effort on the part of the production team that I'm not convinced it isn't a Fake Bad Movie.  It has all the telltale signs: a halfway clever title and setup that never pays off, a bunch of tedious footage in a public park, zero energy....  If it was just a touch more cynical or if I knew more about the making of it, I'd put this on the "do not watch ever" list.  But I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and presume that the cast and crew were trying on some level to make a real production, so I'll lump it under the Workman Bad Movie category for now.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

More than it deserves, unfortunately.  Time Barbarians is one of those movies that's packed to the gills with hipstery cheese, so I can easily see people going into it thinking they'll have a great time.

It's directed by Joseph Jon Barmettler, the writer behind Skyscraper (the Anna Nicole Smith romp, which is actually pretty fun if you ever find a copy), and it's produced by Vista Street Entertainment, the group behind one of my early favorites, Revenge Quest.  It's also a rip-off of Beastmaster II.  And with only about 130 user ratings on IMDb as of this post, it's handily obscure.  On paper, this sounds amazing.

However, in practice, you realize that some hipstery cheese tastes awful.  Beware the cred, kids - it is absolutely not commensurate with a good time.  I'll give Time Barbarians 65 hipster cred out of a possible 100, and damn if it isn't hard-earned.

Where You Can Watch

I'm sure this is on Youtube, but I watched it on Amazon Instant Video with my Prime account.