Eric D. Snider

Dungeons & Dragons

Ironically, while Dungeons & Dragons was an inventive role-playing game that many subsequent games ripped off, the movie "Dungeons & Dragons" is a huge rip-off of "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "The Hobbit," "Harry Potter" and countless other sources. It contains not one single character, line of dialogue or plot development that is original.

It also has rather little to do with the game, though it does feature a number of dungeons and a few dragons. Set in an ancient civilization in which the inhabitants have modern haircuts and speech patterns, the film introduces us to the evil Profion (Jeremy Irons), a magical fellow who seeks to gain power over the red dragons. It seems if you control the red dragons, you pretty much control the world. Fortunately, there is a complicated set of maps and task lists one can follow in order to acquire this power.

Opposing him is Empress Savina (Thora Birch), a Queen Amidala-like character who wants to end the prejudice that exists between Mages (the magical folks) and non-Mages. She also, needless to say, doesn't want a bad guy controlling all the red dragons, so when Profion's bald, blue-lipped henchman Damodar (Bruce Payne) kills the headmaster at a magic school and steals an important map, she is on the case.

Budding young sorceress Marina (Zoe McLellan) is framed for the murder, and she winds up on the lam with two non-Mages, a couple of thieves named Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans). Seeking to clear their names as well as stop Profion, they also set out in search of the magic rod that will control the dragons.

It is fun to see magic used in a "Harry Potter"-ish way, but instances of it are few and far between, and serve mainly to make us look forward to the "Harry Potter" movie due out in 2001. The film also gets bonus points for killing off the Jar Jar Binks character (I won't spoil it by telling you who it is, but you'll recognize him and hate him the moment he Steppin Fetchits it onto the screen.)

This film is an all-you-can-eat buffet of bad acting, and Jeremy Irons is going back for seconds, chewing up the scenery with utter shamelessness. Giving him a run for his money is ... well, everyone. Thora Birch seems to forget her lines several times, and Zoe McLellan is the worst actress this side of porn. It's pointless to list them all, because they're ALL bad.

"Dungeons & Dragons" is exactly as intelligent as a Saturday morning cartoon, no more and no less. Its problem is that it's 105 minutes instead of only 30. It might be a reasonable so-bad-it's-funny camp flick were it not for that excruciating length. But if your idea of fun is to hear Marlon Wayans scream like a girl several thousand times, then this film has a strength factor of 10. Otherwise, it has a crap factor of a million.

Grade: D

Rated PG-13, mild profanity, abundant fantasy violence, but nothing terribly graphic

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