A highly derivative fantasy adventure, The Four Warriors feels like it might just manage to save itself. And then it promptly walks straight off a cliff.
The Four WarriorsDirector: Phil Hawkins
Cast: Christopher Dane, Fergal Philips, Hadrian Howard, Glenn Speers
UK Release Date: 2015-07-13
The fantasy scene is undergoing something of a makeover these days as smash hit shows like Game of Thrones break free from their core audience, finding cachet with the wider public. There’s a reason the genre has a tendency to provoke much derision though, as demonstrated all too ably by the low-budget British disaster The Four Warriors. Weighted down by an offensively derivative plot, poor acting and even worse dialogue, this film is 90 minutes no one should waste.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Director Phil Hawkins’ story starts with the return from the crusades of three warriors: Richard (Christopher Dane who also writes the screenplay), Hamish (Fergal Philips) and William (Glenn Speers), and their Saracen captive Khushtar (Hadrian Howard). They first appear as if from a computer game title screen video, walking in slow motion through the forest looking purposeful.
The gaming feel never really goes away as their purpose takes them to a village peopled solely by women, with the exception of one child. Everyone else has been captured by a mysterious force in the nearby woods, and it’s up to the intrepid quartet to save the day, admittedly after a lengthy spell of prevarication that sees them take up residence in the village where they woo the local populace and mend old wounds.
It all feels like the echo of far superior historical fantasy action, mixing in elements ranging from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to The 13th Warrior, except with nowhere near the quality of even these unspectacular efforts (OK, Prince of Thieves is pretty great). Corners are cut everywhere, while just about every hackneyed development under the sun creeps in. There’s faith rediscovered, past traumas conquered, children rescued, magic crowns handled, love affairs introduced and appalling behaviour put right. Everyone is learning lessons from start to finish.
Many of the problems are budgetary. Everything about Hawkins’ film screams economy, from the overuse of a smoke machine to blur the battlefield, to the cheap masks of their other-worldly adversaries. The poor quality of the acting is another hindrance, turning portentous lines into mush, and light-hearted banter into an uphill march. Had a bit more money been available, maybe these missteps could have been avoided.
This doesn’t explain the screenplay, stuffed full of gawd awful dialogue and implausible decisions. Every character is hewn straight from the rock of past creations. Richard is the solemn leader who’s lost his faith after seeing so much suffering on the other side of Europe, Hamish is the impetuous young gun just gagging for a romance; William the gruff boor with a heart, and Khushtar the penitent foreigner with weird ways who nonetheless succeeds in eventually gaining the respect of his captors.
With so much time spent in their company, the shocking standard of their campfire banter is a real burden. Repetitive lines are thrown out into the ether, and jokes fall flat, all delivered in the unenviable style of a small village drama club. Attempts to stir emotion are equally ineffective, such as Dane delivering several dull speeches that are meant to sound like rallying calls.
Still, for most of the first half, the story continues to move forward. Hawkins’ film may give off the feel of an early evening Saturday TV serial, but it manages to stay afloat mostly because the cast performs with such earnestness. They really have a bash, managing to paper over the very worst dips in quality with sheer enthusiasm. The fight scenes, while no more than functional, are surprisingly not a disgrace. Painfully corny military charges become bearable, as do several of Richard’s speeches. The Four Warriors feels like it might just manage to save itself. And then it promptly walks straight off a cliff.
As the climax approaches, it falls to the warriors, membership slightly rejigged due to battlefield injuries, to go on the offensive and storm the unknown creatures in their lair. The plot then lurches horribly into the worst excesses of the fantasy realm as an appallingly acted wizard (Kristian Nairn, himself of Game of Thrones fame) steps in to save them from a mauling, and dispense valuable advice on the need to stop a demon from finding a series of magic stones. From here the downward slide is unstoppable, the motley crew setting rubbish traps they don’t even bother to inform all their comrades of, before storming a mountain that seems to consist of people wearing cheap Halloween costumes.
Without such an excruciatingly crass conclusion, the film might have managed to sneak through without drawing too much attention to itself. As it is, the pick-up in pace plunges it into a whole new realm of awfulness. This is low-budget filmmaking that would have been better off as an idle conversation down the pub one night.
Alongside the feature, the DVD release contains interviews with all the main cast, and director Phil Hawkins. After watching The Four Warriors, the interviews become all the more interesting, if only to try and discover what it was they all thought they were doing.