“Xena: The Early Years meets Gladiator.”
Benefiting from a slew of decent performances, A&G manages to surpass most of the competition and become a worthy entry in the “gladiatrix” sub-genre. This is perhaps because the cast have been hired either because they can act or because they can fight, while simultaneously not embarrassing themselves in the other department. Pity poor Hiltz, who is in virtually every scene, yet doesn’t even get her name on the cover.
Things start badly, with an annoying child version of heroine Serena, witnessing – and partly responsible for – the death of her mother, as entertainment for governor Crassius (Bergin, a nicely-judged and slimy piece of creepiness). Fortunately, the grown-up version (Hiltz) is much less irritating, and ends up training for revenge with a band of Amazons, under their leader Zenobia, played by former Dr. Who assistant, Mary Tamm. [The real Zenobia was indeed a famous warrior-queen, in Syria around the 3rd century AD] Rubin is the master-sergeant who trains her, and Norton, a veteran villain in many a martial arts flick, gets to play the love interest for once, and does a pretty good job.
No real surprises in the plot, with everyone getting more or less what they deserve. But despite accents which roam the globe from Australia through England to America, it’s well-acted and well thought-out, with very few mis-steps. Rubin is excellent, exuding confidence in her role, while Hiltz looks as if she is able to tell one end of a sword from the other, yet with flaws which perpetually threaten to derail her quest for vengeance. Shot in Lithuania, if it’s tame enough to feel like a TV pilot, it’s one for a series I’d be keen to watch.
Dir: Zachary Weintraub
Star: Nichole M. Hiltz, Patrick Bergin, Richard Norton, Jennifer Rubin