Based on another character created by Robert E. Howard, “Solomon Kane” offers the kind of straight-faced sword-‘n’-sorcery seldom seen since “Conan the Barbarian” kicked off a cycle of copycat pics 27 years ago. This brawny hero, however, isn’t likely to inspire much imitation with his relative lack of marquee star power and CGI spectacle. Purist fanboys will appreciate the effort’s resistance to souping up Howard’s concept according to current fashions. But in truth, this muscular yet monotonous “Kane” just isn’t much fun. Solid ancillary biz will follow likely quick theatrical playoff.
Kane (James Purefoy) is first seen in 1600 North Africa, raiding and razing a walled city, killing all the “putrid heathen” en route to a throne chamber where treasure awaits. Unfortunately, so do some malevolent spirits, which devour all his cohorts before the “Devil’s Reaper” informs our ruthless hero his time is up. He escapes, albeit with the awareness that all past evil deeds have damned his soul.
A year later, he’s back on native ground in an England not green and pleasant but cold, damp and dingy, having sought temporary sanctuary from the devil’s due at a monastery. But the brothers order him home to the castle he left as a youth, when his nobleman father (Max von Sydow) insisted on bequeathing his title to a jerkwad elder son whom Kane then accidentally killed (or so he thinks).
En route, our pillager-turned-peacenik is sheltered by a Puritan family hoping to sail to the New World. Unfortunately for all, the countryside is being terrorized by evil sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng), who’s taken up residence in Kane’s ancestral manse. Having promised to rescue captured love interest Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), Kane is fated to meet Malachi mano-a-mano, plus one major (if not particularly striking) CGI monster.
There’s a surprising amount of Christian content for this kind of genre exercise, with repeated exhortations to God and, at one point, a full-on crucifixion, with our hero flanked, like Jesus, by two others in the same plight. But to whatever extent the pic takes religion seriously, it also de-emphasizes “Love thy neighbor” in favor of much righteous arse-whupping.
After two promising U.K. horror exercises (“Deathwatch,” “Wilderness”), helmer-scenarist Michael J. Bassett handles this Euro co-production’s larger scale confidently if without much flair. Action is constant but never especially memorable or visceral. While one can excuse the lack of humor as faithfulness to the source material, the pic’s absence of any colorful supporting characters (name thesps, also including Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige, are wasted in generic parts) really underlines this meat-and-potatoes adventure’s need for some spicing up.
Stuck roaming gloomy England rather than exotic mythical lands, Kane generally has to hide his impressive physique under a lot more clothes than Conan did. Purefoy gamely endures heavy exertion throughout; it’s not his fault the script lends his character might and a mission but little personality.
Handsome-enough widescreen production, purportedly budgeted around $45 million, was shot largely outdoors in Czech Republic and U.K. It will duly lose something on the smallscreen, even if design contributions are uniformly solid without ever being particularly imaginative, save one neat hall-of-mirrors setting.