An almost insanely ambitious project on a piddling budget, “Westender” goes for epic period proportions, a la “Lord of the Rings,” but plays more like a pilot for “Xena, Warrior Princess.” Bold visual style, striking Oregon locations, and charismatic lead from Canuck thesp Blake Stadel almost make up for severe deficiencies in story and tone. Pic could do some biz on tape, or lead to a more moneyed spinoff.
Preposterous tale features Stadel, a mellower Mel Gibson type, as Lord Asbrey of Westend — not a disco dweller but a knight who has fallen on hard times, who’s traipsing around the countryside, emptying wineskins like there’s no tomorrow, and gambling away his last few possessions.
When he loses his sacred ring in a card game, he tracks down the man (Rob Simonsen, who also composed the score), only to find the clownish fop has himself been robbed by hooded slavers. Quick as you can shriek “Shrek,” Asbrey is saddled with this non-stop talker and infuriating ass-kisser. The mismatched-buddy theme isn’t really explored, though, and the pic eventually returns to the hero’s solo search for redemption, etc.
The latter sections are relatively formless, and feel padded out by flashbacks that explain Asbrey’s soppy state but don’t advance the story much. This gives helmer and editor Brock Morse a chance to show off some fancy cutting between wildly disparate locations found all over Oregon state — from mysterious dunes and cracked-earth desert to Hobbit-like forest meadows. Lenser Matt Molitor has made the most of a digital approach to natural light, opting for deeply saturated colors that resemble neither naturalistic film nor the usual washed-out vid effects.
Too bad the script isn’t up to all this visual splendor. While the story, too quickly expanded from a successful short, is just about serviceable, the actors have nothing interesting to say. Sporting accents that evoke the Shire by way of Santa Monica, the characters mostly speak in whatchagonnado and whothehellizat cadences, with the occasional stab at pseudo-Shakespearean oration. Stadel is hemmed in by a first half that keeps our Westend boy pissed off and beat up most of the time. A move into fantasy realm, with alien characters straight out of “Star Trek” isn’t adequately prepared for. And the few women present look like they were spray-painted on the side of a van.
Back on the plus side, Simonsen’s orchestral score is unusually rich for a low-budget affair — in fact, its Technicolor yearnings are sometime surplus to requirements. Still, you can’t blame anyone here for reaching for the impossible.