Dungeons & Dragons

dir Courtney Solomon
scr Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright
with Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Zoe McLellan, Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Bruce Payne, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Robert Miano, Edward Jewesbury, Tom Baker, Richard O'Brien
release US 8.Dec.00; UK 16.Feb.01
NewLine 00/US 1 out of 5 stars
Based on the role-play game, it's at least refreshing that Dungeons & Dragons didn't try to live up to millions of fans' expectations, opting instead for a cheesy plot and camp production values. But maybe I'm being overly generous here. Because this film is terrible any way you look at it. The story centres on a couple of sceptres used to control dragons in a mythical kingdom where a villainous senator (Irons) is engaged in a battle to overthrow the young empress (Birch). He sends his blue-lipped henchman (Payne) out to find the legendary Rod of Savrille (ominous chord of music!), before our good-hearted trio of heroes (Whalin, Wayans and McLellan) get it first. Cone-bra-wearing elves and bumbling dwarves help or hinder as tension builds in this magical realm.

Or at least, we're supposed to believe that tension is building. This requires a lot of faith, as we can't actually feel any tension at all, mostly because Solomon can't decide what kind of film this is. The villains all speak with snarling lips and bulging eyes, like they're in the climactic scene of a Hammer horror film, while the youngsters seem to have stepped off the set of American Pie with their goofy antics and lame jokes. And virtually every element is stolen from either Star Wars or Indiana Jones films. At least Whalin and Wayans are watchable, which is more than we can say for the rest of the cast. Birch looks like she's in agony, watching her career go up in smoke, while Irons plays every scene so far over the top that he obviously doesn't care if he ever works again. The film's extensive computer imagery is often impressive (especially the big dragon battle at the end), although it looks like it was created on a home PC. And the costumes look like they're by Toys R Us. And everything combines into such a convoluted mess that we very nearly enjoy the sheer awfulness of it all.
violence, suspense, themes cert 12 12.Feb.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall