Great looking, noble in spirit and utterly bland in almost every other respect, "Nomad: The Warrior" does one thing very well: It reminds you that ambitious international co-productions are almost always a mixed bag of impressive strengths and ridiculous weaknesses.
Set in Kazakhstan long before "Borat" brought comedic shame to his "countrymen," this $40 million French-Kazakh co-production (which somehow managed to snag a Golden Globe nomination earlier this year) is reportedly the brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who thought it would be nice to see his country represented by a grand-scale epic full of colorful costumes, sweeping landscapes, and the flashing swords and flying arrows of armor-clad warriors on galloping steeds. That makes "Nomad" a kind of Western-themed PR campaign, with a beheading or two to scare off any tourists looking for Kazakhstan's answer to Monument Valley.
Naturally, such an exercise in national pride calls for two foreign directors (one Russian, the other Czech), a screenwriter from Azerbaijan, and Mexican and American actors in the male leads. As the obligatory love interest torn between two best friends, the very appealing Kazakh actress Ayanat Yesmagambetova had her dialogue dubbed by Chinese actress Bai Ling, leading one to wonder, is this an 18th-century prequel to "Babel"?
Oh, well. Who cares if the dubbing is obvious when you've got loads of repetitious battle action and a descendent of Genghis Khan as your hero?
That would be Mansur (Kuno Becker, from Mexico's popular "Goal!" movies), historically known as legendary Kazakh military strategist Ablai Khan. He's prophesied by the mystic warrior Oraz (Jason Scott Lee) to be the savior of Kazakhstan, born to unify the country's tribes against their marauding Jungar enemies. Trained in secrecy by Oraz, Mansur grows up to fulfill his destiny, which includes a fateful duel with best friend Erali (Jay Hernandez, from "Hostel" and its sequel), and a hopeful future with Gaukhar, the Kazakh sweetheart who speaks English with a semi-Chinese accent.
I don't mean to dismiss "Nomad" out of hand; it boasts plenty of expansive scenery and some grand-scale horse-riding that's a welcome throwback to the authentic scope of pre-CGI classics like "Lawrence of Arabia."
Unfortunately, it also embraces every cliché in the epic-movie playbook, relies too heavily on stale dialogue delivered in somber tones and offers little to its actors besides the opportunity to fashion some great-looking Eurasian costumes. It really doesn't matter how directors Sergei Bodrov and Ivan Passer divided their duties, since "Nomad" is uniformly unremarkable in terms of its overall impact.
On the other hand, it makes Kazakhstan look a lot better than "Borat" did, and when most people discover this movie on DVD, that'll surely count for something.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com
Showtimes and trailer
"Nomad: The Warrior," with Jason Scott Lee, Kuno Becker, Jay Hernandez, Ayanat Yesmagambetova. Directed by Sergei Bodrov and Ivan Passer, from a screenplay by Rustam Ibragimbekov.
112 minutes. Rated R for violence. Partially dubbed into English.