MOVIE REVIEW: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

There’s a term in film criticism that comes up in the discussion of “bad” movies – the Idiot Picture. It has a couple of definitions. It could refer to the plot of the movie progressing only because a character is an idiot. I’ve heard it referring to a fantasy / sci-fi movie world where everyone is so idiotic that the movie reviewer feels they could take over that world on a good weekend. Or perhaps it’s the movie makers who are idiots for including utterly inane dialog and leaving vast plot holes. Or maybe it means that only an idiot would think it’s a good movie.

Beastmaster II seems to cover all of them.
1982 was a good year for “sword and sorcery” movies. Conan the Barbarian was released in the spring, and The Beastmaster came out late in the summer. The former made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star; the latter became a staple of cable TV. The combination launched dozens upon dozens of imitators, most of which couldn’t compare to the originals. After several years the genre faded away, like all fads. So of course it was time to make a sequel to The Beastmaster!

You might recall that at the end of that movie, the EEEvil King Zed was killed, and the kingdom taken over by the EEEvil wizard Arklon (Wings Hauser). Dar the Beastmaster (Marc Singer), along with his pets – an eagle, a tiger, and two ferrets – managed to avoid the ensuing chaos. For a time.

As this movie opens, Arklon has been mopping up the last bits of resistance to his rule – including Dar and his Traveling Circus. Dar is being sentenced in what is obviously a show trial. But before the sentence of death can be carried out, his pets appear and help him escape.

Here’s where the calvacade of idiocies begins.

If you’ve captured The Beastmaster, presumably you’ve also captured his beasts. If you haven’t, why isn’t there a “Kill The Dangerous Animals On Sight” order in place? Why is Dar so loosely bound and so poorly guarded? Why isn’t there anyone in the hall with a ranged weapon of any sort? Not even a couple of throwing knives? If Arklon and his cohorts are so incompetent, how did they manage to take over the kingdom in the first place?

Anyway, Dar & Co. escape out into the wilderness of Glen Canyon, Utah, with Arklon hot on his heels. The latter meets up with the sorceress Lyranna (Sarah Douglas), who tells him of the magical “Portal of Time”, a gateway of some sort that leads to the fantasyland of late 20th century Los Angeles. She lets him know that she’s discovered a means whereby he can use the portal to take over the entire world. Seems somewhere in SoCal, the US Military is storing a “Neutron Deactivator” doomsday device that can obliterate half a continent.

Okay, more idiocies. Arklon’s kingdom, from what we’ve seen, is already pretty devastated. Why make it worse? There’s no sign of any organized resistance to his rule, nor do their appear to be any other kingdoms he has to worry about. There’s no strategic reason for getting the device (nor is there any reason for the US to have made one in the 1990s, for that matter).

Oh, it must also be pointed out that Lyranna is the only person in Arklon-Land who speaks in Late 20th Century American, and not that stilted “barbarian-ese”. You know, that overly verbose dialect that turns a simple “See you later, dude!” into “Until the Fates bring us together again, my boon companion, I bid thee a fond fare-thee-well!”.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, spoiled brat teen Jackie Trent (Kari Wuhrer) is driving recklessly, talking on her portable phone while trying to avoid the police pursuing her. She’s not really worried about the cops; her dad is a big shot senator and can be counted on to bail her out. But it would still be a downer to get pulled over, so she turns a corner only to find a brick wall in front of her. Oh no! Fortunately for her (and unfortunately for us), that wall is the other side of the Portal, and she drives through unharmed.

She’s quickly caught by Arklon, but before he can press gang her into being his guide in LA, she’s resuced by Dar. Together they flee back through the Portal, with Arklon hot on their heels. Naturally, they all encounter a lot of “fish out of water” humor. If you can call it that.

It so happens that Senator Trent is on whatever committee it is that is responsible for the Neutron Deactivator! What a break for Arklon! He manages to do a little mind-reading and disguise himself as a general in order to get access to the Neutron Deactivator. Lucky for him, it’s a self-contained unit that can easily be carried with one hand.

More idiocies: The security on this Doomsday Device is appalling. It’s stored in a room in what looks like an ordinary industrial park, and there are only two guards on the door. No ID check, no security keys, no “sign this register when you need access to the Device Room, please”. Just two bored guards who let Arklon in because he’s got high enough bling on his uniform. Nor does Arklon show any interest at all in the many rifles and armored vehicles he passes – each of which would be far more practical for someone trying to take over Barbarian World.

It might be possible to consider that the “device”, as we see it, is something like a decoy or a test for a component of the actual device. But I’m putting far more thought into this movie than the people who actually made it, so….

Needless to say, Dar defeats Arklon, and then he and Jackie presumably live Happily Ever After. Presumably in Los Angeles, since I can’t see her lasting a single day in a place without a single nail salon. What happens back in Barbarian-Land, now that it’s ruler has been slain, is left to the imagination of anyone who’s still conscious at this point.

The only possibility that makes any sense with this movie is that they were trying for a comedy. One of the police officers on the Case of the Barbarian Invaders is tall and thin, the other is short and fat – the classic “Laurel and Hardy” duo. The military is made out to be a bunch of bumblers. And in a scene where Dar and Jackie are cruising the streets of L.A., they pass a movie theater showing “Beastmaster II“…. yeah, really. But all these attempts at humor fail.

There are a lot of ways a movie can be bad, but the worst is when a comedy utterly fails at being funny.

And there’s nothing funny about Beastmaster II……

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