Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival

AMSTERDAM -- Epic sword-and-sorcery fantasy "Wolfhound" is essentially "Conan the Barbarian" meets "Lord of the Rings" Russian-style. While the vibe is too squarely old-fashioned and action sequences too uninspired for the movie to appeal to audiences beyond its Slavic market, it's easy to see why the film clicked in the motherland with at least one sequel in the offing. The novel upon which it's based -- the first part of a trilogy -- deals with the heroic exploits of slave-turned-warrior Wolfhound (imposing, furrow-browed Aleksandr Bukharov) in an unspecified medieval-ish time in an unspecified locale. Never has rural Slovakia looked quite so much like Middle Earth.

The opening reel is pure "Conan": Young Wolfhound watches as his family is slaughtered by a marauding clan of monstrous villains. This sparks a standard-issue revenge plot, which eventually leads the grown-up Wolfhound -- accompanied at all times by his pet bat -- a scene-stealingly cute, flightless critter known as Ragged Wing -- to become protector of Princess Elen (Oksana Akinshina), whose mystical powers the forces of darkness are keen to harness for evil ends.

It's interesting to see a current Russian film presenting royal blood as magically sacred, but whatever the imperialistic subtexts (and "Wolfhound" is otherwise mercifully light on ideological baggage) the gloomily pretty Akinshina ("The Bourne Supremacy," "Lilya 4-Ever") elevates proceedings whenever she's onscreen. Her best scene is a percussively scored sequence that intercuts the princess' preparations for a hazardous journey with a blood sacrifice being simultaneously performed elsewhere by her dastardly foes.

Not even the pleasingly over-the-top climax, which features a malevolent being that resembles a tornado of stones, battled by Wolfhound with what might be called a Wagnerian light saber, comes close to that scene's primal power. Writer-director Nikolai Lebedev mars the numerous mano-a-mano fight-scenes with choppy editing and a fondness for closeups. Otherwise, he is content to ape his cinematic antecedents, giving the impression that whatever the West can do, a resurgent Russia may not be able to match via spectacle or FX but can certainly exceed in terms of earnest bombast.

A Central Partnership production
Sales: Central Partnership
Director: Nikolai Lebedev
Writer: Nikolai Lebedev
Based on the novel by: Mariya Semyonoya
Producers: Sergei Danielyan, Ruben Dishdishyan, Yuri Moroz
Directors of photography: Irek Hartowicz, Valeri Martynov
Production designer: Lyudmila Kusakova
Music: Theo Green, Aleksei Rybnikov
Costume designer: Svetlana Titova
Editors: Lidia Milioti, Pavel Andryosjenko
Wolfhound: Aleksandr Bukharov
Princess Elen: Oksana Akinshina
Luchezar: Igor Petrenko
Evrikh: Artyom Semakin
Ogre: Aleksandr Domgarov
Running time -- 136 minutes
No MPAA rating