Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeremy Irons, Bruce Payne, Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Robert Miano, Tomas Havrlik, Thora Birch, Edward Jewesbury, Zoe McLellan, Lee Arenberg, Kristen Wilson, Martin Astles, Matthew O'Toole, David O'Kelly, Richard O'Brien
Written by: Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright
Directed by: Courtney Solomon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action violence
Running Time: 107
Date: 12/08/2000

Dungeons and Dragons (2000)

1 Star (out of 4)

No Dice

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

First of all, fans of the famous role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons should stay away from this movie. The two have nothing to do with each other save the title. Secondly, everyone else should stay away as well. Dungeons & Dragons is a very, very bad movie.

In the early 1980's, after the popularity of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, dozens of cheap imitators sprung up like Jake Speed (1986) and Space Raiders (1983) to cash in on their success. Dungeons & Dragons is like that, but 20 years too late. Every scene is an almost direct rip off of one or the other movie, including a "cantina" scene filled with alien creatures, and a deathtrap maze with a glittering prize at the end.

Justin Whalin plays Ridley and Marlon Wayans plays Snails, a pair of small-time theives who break into a magic school for a big score. They get caught and find themselves involved with a cute wizard (Zoe McLellan) looking for a powerful sceptre that--I think--controls dragons. To tell the truth, I didn't entirely digest this plot. It's put together like the worst of those live-action Disney movies from the 1960's, except at least those had some semblance of acting. Here the performances range from entirely too big to zombie-like. The movie has a director credited, Courtney Solomon, but I would wager that he was never there.

The standout, though, is Jeremy Irons as the bad guy who uses every muscle in his body in his performance. He twitches his eyes, he clenches his fists, he flares his nose. It's as if he's performing for himself in the shower, unaware that there's a camera on him. Poor Thora Birch (from American Beauty) plays Natalie Portman's princess part from The Phantom Menace and can barely register any emotions at all. Not that the dialogue is there, even if she could. Written by Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright, every line is lifted from some other movie, including the usual "Ridley... (pause)... be careful."

The film goes one further, resurrecting two hundred year-old stereotypes regarding blacks and women. Whalin gets to be a clean-cut chiseled white guy, but Wayans has to play a lazy, cowardly bug-eyed idiot, and McLellan is stuck getting kidnapped and screaming a lot.

Special effects fans will want to know what the dragons look like. They look like the exact same CGI dragons we've been seeing for the past ten years. One scene apparently has Birch riding on the back of a dragon, but it's only shot in close-up. We never see an actual perspective shot of her riding on a dragon. Not a hint of inventiveness exists anywhere in this movie.

I remember being entertained as a child by dumb movies like Disney's The Cat from Outer Space (1978). I imagine that Dungeons & Dragons will similarly capture youngsters' attention, but it will never capture their imagination. It's another one for the Worst of the Year list.

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