Dolph Lundgren, who whomped Rocky as the Russian wonder in "IV," muscles in on "Masters of the Universe," an action-fantasy based on the TV cartoon based on the toys by Mattel. Little kids at play have come up with craftier plots, better characterization and conceivably more spectacular effects -- provided their mothers let them play with matches.
Lundgren -- blond, brawny and with a set of pecs that would give Dolly Parton pause -- plays He-Man, a superhero locked in an eternal, epic battle with Skeletor, a power-crazed supervillain played by Frank Langella. They move through the story, such as it is, as statically as their counterparts in the afternoon kiddie cartoon. Unlike the characters in the "Superman" movies, they lack humor and motivation.
Skeletor, who looks like Jack Palance with leprosy, is bad and that's that. He aims to take over the planet Eternia, a war-torn paradise ruled by the Sorceress of Greyskull Castle ("St. Elsewhere's" Christina Pickles), but her champion He-Man opposes him with his mighty sword. The titanic battle is brought to Earth when the brilliant troll Gwildor (veteran Billy Barty) magically transports them to Colby, Calif., via his Cosmic Key.
Actually they were headed for another planet, but a stray power bolt (or perhaps a chintzy producer) altered their orbit. Why build an out-of-this-world set when you can just go down to the mall and shoot off sparklers? So Earth waitress Julie (Courteney Cox) and her boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan Mitchell) are drawn into the otherworldly warfare when they happen to find the key, mistaking it for some sort of Japanese stereo speaker.
Wardrobe seems to have borrowed the space soldiers' black plastic outfits from the sentries of "Star Wars," and the composer revised John Williams' heraldic scores. The effects are clumsy, but the Eternia throne-room set is interesting even if the faux marble floors do look more like bathroom countertops in a chain of cheap hotels.
Director Gary Goddard has previously created mythical kingdoms for Universal Studios -- "Kong on the Loose" and "Conan." And let's just say he hasn't quite made the leap from tourist traps to feature films. The actors are basically on their own -- either hamming it up behind a mask in Langella's case, or nearly numb as in Lundgren's. It sounds as if the Scandinavian-born muscleman has been studying under Stallone's diction coach, but he has a sweet, shining charisma, grinning and glistening, wearing thongs and things and accentuating his hunkiness with plenty of grease. It takes a lot of Wesson Oil to make a movie like "Masters of the Universe."
Masters of the Universe is rated PG for cartoon violence and is at area theaters.