By Ralph Novak
Updated November 20, 1989 12:00 PM

Tim Robbins, Imogen Stubbs

About 10 percent of this film is anarchic, irreverent, wild-time Monty Python humor. Two or three percent of that consists of the characters’ names: Sven the Berserk, Unn the Thrown At, Thornhild the Sarcastic. Another big chunk of the wit comes in a scene involving the villain Viking’s oar-powered ship, where the slave-master, a Japanese, yells insults at the galley slaves: “How I despise your lack of subtlety and your joined-up writing!” “Your big-breasted women give me no pleasure with their warmed-up fish!”

Most of the movie, however, is devoted to a straight adventure-fantasy involving a semipacifist Viking’s desire to find Valhalla so he can ask the gods to end war. These segments alternate between chaotic battles and long, dull stretches of preparation for the chaotic battles.

Director-writer Terry Jones, the Pythonite who directed Life of Brian, digs himself a pit in his repugnant opening scene (which tries to get laughs out of a rape attempt and subsequent killing) and never comes near climbing out of it.

As a straight man in a Viking send-up, Robbins (Bull Durham) would have been perfectly cast. Here he seems bewildered by the extreme changes in tone that one minute have him fighting Halfdan the Black—John Cleese—and the next minute have him doing vaudeville comedy with Jones, who appears on-camera as king of an island where violence isn’t allowed.

Stubbs, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Grace Slick, is Jones’s daughter. Mickey Rooney, as Robbins’s father, and Eartha Kitt, doing a full-out dramatic number as a prophetess, are wasted.

Jones seems to be driving clumsily at a moral; the blacksmith in Robbins’s village, Gary Cady, can’t decide if he wants the fighting to continue. He’ll make lots of money selling weapons if it does, but his avarice is tempered by his compassion.

Going back and forth between preaching and parody is tiring, though—those quantum leaps are rough on the concentration span—and Jones neither makes his point nor gets the laughs this film could easily have earned. (PG-13)