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Dungeons and Dragons (PG-13)
New Line Cinema

Official Site

Director: Courtney Solomon

Producer: Thomas M. Hammerl, Kia Jam, Steve Richards

Written by: Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Marlon Wayans, Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan, Bruce Payne, Tom Baker, Richard O'Brien

Rating: out of 5

Do the words "Freedom" and "the People" mean more to you than anything? Does the idea of magic and dragons bring you unbridled joy? Is watching Marlon Wayans more fun for you than anything else you can think of?

If you answered YES! to any of the above questions, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is the movie for you. If not, you may want to wait till you can sneak a six-pack into the dollar theater. The feature debut by director Courtney Solomon is a by-the-book action fantasy: handsome thief turned hero, funny sidekick, smart love interest who starts off huffy and superior but slowly melts, evil villain with evil henchman, and some other folks to fill things out. The plot follows a series of improbable adventures meant to endear the heroes to us, eventually leading to the climax of good vs. evil where guess what? Good wins.

All of this thieving and fighting is wrapped in some mighty high ideals, as represented by the good, and terribly stiffly played, Empress Savina (Birch), and Solomon makes sure we donít miss the point. Audience members repeatedly bludgeoned with these ideals will eventually wince at just hearing the words "freedom," "equality," or "the people."

To loyalists of the role-playing game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, this movie will probably prove less exciting than any adventure played out on the card table in the basement. Elves, dwarves, thieves, and mages all play roles that could have been cribbed from any Tolkien knock-off. The series of tasks to complete in pursuit of a greater quest will seem familiar to gamers, however, though that doesnít excuse the choppiness of a plot that jumps from one convenient challenge to another. Seeing fully animated beholders (a floating watchdog with a dozen eyes) was fun for 10 seconds, but only left me wanting to see more AD&D monsters brought to life.

Which brings us to the dragons seen swooping and diving dramatically in the trailer. There are dragons. Quite a lot of them. They swoop. They dive. And somehow itís hard to care. The plot hinges on the importance of dragons, Gold and Red, in fighting wars and giving legitimacy to human rulers, but the battle lacks any sense of progress or even purpose by either side. Dragons seem to be most effective at crashing into gold-tinted skyscrapers and fighting each other.

There were no real standout performances in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, but it must be pointed out that the script gave actors nothing to work with. Marlon Wayans gets points for being the least disappointing character. As Snails, the comic sidekick, Wayans does the shtick we all know (and presumably some love). This saves him from the fate reserved for Justin Whalin, playing the hero, Ridley, who makes Keanu Reeves look subtle and nuanced. Only bad when heís trying to emote, Whalin is a good match for the similarly afflicted Zoe McLellan, who plays Marina, the assistant mage and love interest. Jeremy Irons provided a glimpse of what this movie could have been with his over-the-top evil portrayal of villain Profion. The rest of the cast didnít follow Irons' campy lead except possibly for Bruce Payne, whoís serious portrayal of the evil henchman Damodar provided more unintentional laughs than any other character. Richard OíBrien, of Riff Raff fame in ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, mightíve been fun as Nilus, chief of thieves, but neither script nor director gave him a chance. Finally, fans of DOCTOR WHO will thrill to see Tom Baker as the King of the Elves but may wish they hadnít seen their hero saddled with such abominable dialogue in his only scene.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a bad movie, but not bad enough to be interesting. Great for dates who plan to ignore the movie anyway, for Marlon Wayans fanatics (though be warned, heís not in every scene), or for young people who just want a reason to yell at the movies. Earlier I suggested seeing it with a six-pack for a dollar, but my friends wonít. Not if I get to them first.

óReed Oliver

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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