Kull The Conqueror

on August 29, 1997 by Dale Winogura
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   A fond and energetic return to the Italian muscle-hero epics of the 1960s, "Kull the Conqueror" is a guilty pleasure of rare quality. The spirit rather than the letter of Robert E. Howard's short stories (mainly the 1929 "By This Axe I Rule!") has been captured with a lively sense of old-fashioned mythical hokum in a script by Charles Edward Pogue ("Dragonheart"). Naturally, the plot has as many holes and absurd contrivances as Howard's tall tales, but the moviemakers' clear affection for its source keeps the film diverting in a corny way.
   With irreverent dash and charm, Kevin Sorbo (best known from TV's "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys") admirably fills out the muscular title role--an ancient warrior and progenitor of Conan the Barbarian who's deposed as king of Valusia by a treacherous evil sorceress ("High School High's" Tia Carrere, who truly seems to enjoy being bad). So Kull sets off on an ocean voyage with his lady love ("Legend of the Fall's" Karina Lombard, who here proves enchanting) and a loyal fighting companion (a dignified Litefoot, last seen in "The Indian in the Cupboard") to find a supernatural power that will destroy the fiend and restore peace to his land.
   Loaded with brawny action, mysterious locales, hair-breadth escapes and anachronistic tongue-in-cheek humor, this is one lusty adventure fantasy that does not rely on computer-generated effects to create entertainment magic. Even the suggestions of nudity, sexuality and violence are handled with creative discretion. Colorful supporting turns by Roy Brocksmith as an eccentric king's adviser and Harvey Fierstein ("Independence Day") as an old friend of Kull's who turns traitor further the film's myriad delights.
   The brisk pace and imaginative visual atmosphere created by debut feature director John Nicolella (TV's "Nash Bridges"), aided by Benjamin Fernandez's witty production design and Rodney Charters' lavish Panavision photography, help the silly fun to stay on its feet. Only those without a sense of wonder or appreciation of legendary nonsense should avoid crossing into this kingdom. Starring Kevin Sorbo, Tia Carrere, Harvey Fierstein and Karina Lombard. Directed by John Nicolella. Written by Charles Edward Pogue. Produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis. A Universal release. Adventure. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and sensuality. Running time: 96 min
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