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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Pathfinder' full of mysteries

Probably the best way to deal with this tawdry slash-and-bash saga of rampaging Norsemen is to throw the film reels on wooden longboats and push them out to sea in flames for a Viking funeral.

Too small to be a spectacle, too humorless to take seriously and too stupid to pass muster at a middle school writing workshop, "Pathfinder" appears to be the first film adapted from a Frank Frazetta battle scene airbrushed on a Chevy van.

The story is set a thousand years ago as good, gentle American Indians are beset by hairy Scandinavian dudes lopping heads, bashing skulls and slitting throats.

In the sort of role that might once have been played by Victor Mature, Karl Urban (a second-string good guy from the "Lord of the Rings" films) plays Ghost, a Viking orphaned years before when his father's raiding party perished. He was taken in by the local tribe, but evidently remains traumatized: He speaks no more than a dozen sentences throughout the film, unless "aarghh" counts. When a second raiding party arrives, and begins slaughtering his adoptive community, he gets to say that a lot.

The Vikings, with their swords and armor, kill the hell out of the coastal villagers and force Ghost to lead them across the mountains to settlements farther inland. There's some trumped-up tension over whether he will remain loyal to his adoptive community or return to his bloodthirsty Viking nature, but the real mysteries of this film lie elsewhere.

For one, what part of America's East Coast has 11,000-foot mountains? For two, why is it snowbound winter in all the odd-numbered shots and insect-buzzing summer in the even-numbered ones? For three, since the Vikings don't steal any of the natives' resources, did they cross the Atlantic just for recreational rampaging? For four, why did director Marcus Nispel (of the 2003 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre") shoot this film entirely in washed-out shades of blue? Is that cheaper? If it was to conjure up a starkly terrifying sense of a barbaric time and place, it fails.

Loud and overbusy but never exciting, "Pathfinder" is an action film only insofar as airborne prop heads and severed appendages equal action.

½ out of four stars.

Rating: R for strong brutal violence throughout.