Strength: 4 ^ Dexterity: 2 ^ Charisma: 1 ^ Wisdom and Intellect: -10 ^ The Christmas season is the time Hollywood shoves all of its “prestige” flicks down the public’s collective throat. If any one decision this year improved the potential reception for these films, it may have been to lower expectations by the simultaneous release of incompetent garbage like “Dungeons and Dragons.” You might have this film would merely be bad. I’m sure the passengers on the Hindenburg never expected to watch the bloated carcass of their transport to go up in flames so quickly, either. It’s difficult to find the words to describe a disaster so… complete in its devastation. Somehow I’ll try. I may not be too pleasant about it, but nothing I could say could cause any more damage than that already inflicted by the idiots who just piloted this fireball into the ground.
Oh, where did it all go so wrong? Eurocentric fantasy films never seem to work. Ridley Scott failed with “Legend”. Ron Howard’s “Willow” is likely the best to date due to a lack of competition. With this effort, director Courtney Solomon and writers Topper Lilien and Carrol Cartwright have undertaken the additional difficulty of adapting a well-loved role-playing game. For anyone too popular in their teenage years, “Dungeons and Dragons”, or D&D, is a gaming system to define a world where many of your less socially-adept classmates became the warriors and wizards that could kick your a*s. Unfortunately, role-playing games are about participation, not so much specific stories, characters, legends, or anything else that really translates to film. Do those to blame for the cine-problematic “Dungeons and Dragons” succeed in reproducing any aspect of its source material?
The story, such as it is, concerns a mystical city’s young, new Empress Savina (Thora Birch). She longs to balance the defects of a rigid social order, but the smug ruling class of sorcerers will only answer her pleas for equality with plots for her demise. Aided by his extremely cranky henchman Damodar (Bruce Payne), no one lusts for he throne more than the quite evil and demented wizard Profion (Jeremy Irons). His biggest obstacle is a group of meddling kids that includes student mage Marina (Zoe McLellan) and thieves Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans). An enchanted map guides the young adventures on a quest for a powerful magic orb and a legendary magic rod that will…, oh, f**k it, hilarity ensues.
The special effects guys earned the only star I’m giving this atrocity, I wipe my a*s with the rest. The biggest victims here, after the audience, would be the actors. They couldn’t have all possibly sucked this hard on their own. They’re not even filmed well. Solomon can’t seem to employ anything more imaginative than a medium shot in a generic blanket of light. The director provided little more guidance for the cast as each person flails in the tone of their performance while attempting to deliver dialogue composed solely of bad cliches. How else do you explain what Jeremy Irons is doing? He looks like Bela Lugosi doing a drunken imitation of Richard Nixon. By the end, his snarling antics led me to doubt this could even be the genuine article, just some crazed monster that had eaten him, from which the real Irons now struggled to escape (along with Bela and Dick). He’s so out-of-control, even Ed Wood or John Waters would have asked him to take it down a notch. Worse, his part and Birch’s Empress are mostly rip-offs of Senator Palpatine and Queen Amidala from “The Phantom Menace”, not exactly the “Star Wars” film from which I’d have chosen to steal. The Empress even gives a speech before the assembled congress of magical bastards begging for their support. As Solomon blithely allows her to underplay the scene while Irons chews it to bits, the results become excruciating to the point of absurdity.
Irons at least can point to the movie and credibly state that he’d lost his mind. Marlon Wayans can at best claim a severe lapse in judgement. This year he co-wrote himself a $100 million grossing hit (“Scary Movie”) before proving he could act in “Requiem for a Dream.” Even at his most addled, his character from that film couldn’t have had drug-induced fantasies and more annoying than the pathetic, underwritten jive-talking sidekick stumbling through this misadventure, hitting on elves. The only convincing, nuanced performance in the whole movie comes from Bruce Payne, but after working on gems like “Warlock III” and “Highlander: Endgame”, he should know how to deal with a steaming pile of s**t when it’s thrown at him.
I’m sure there are plenty of D&D fans out there giddy to see how this film turned out. Sadly, if “Dungeons and Dragons” is successful at anything, it’s in taking on the characteristics of the stereotypes that plague the fans. You know the image, awkward, overly earnest, not as clever as he thinks is, and extremely easy to ridicule. If only he had a sense of humor and put up a fight, he might pass the time a little more enjoyably.
Better luck next time. You’ve got to feel for director Peter Jackson, currently filming the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. When he began, the thought of making three great fantasy pictures seemed impossible when there hasn’t even been one made to that point. It’s too bad nothing has changed.