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An Evil, Medieval Muddle

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2000


    'Dungeons and Dragons' Justin Whalen, Marlon Wayans and Zoe MacLellan in "Dungeons & Dragons."
(Francis Delia/New Line Cinema)
When it comes to "Dungeons & Dragons" – both the infamous role-playing game about wizards, elves and other pseudo-medieval magical critters and the new film on which it is based – there are so many weapons to choose from. Maybe I should let a role of the dice determine whether I use a cudgel or a broadsword to put this puppy out of its misery?

Let's start by skewering Jeremy Irons, a late but strong contender in the 2000 What-Were-They-Thinking sweepstakes. As the evil Profion, one of an elite race of magic users called Mages, Irons is nearly incomprehensible from his first line to his last. Could it be that he's drowned out by the roar of the bombastic soundtrack (courtesy of musical hack Justin Caine Burnett), the crackle of cheesy lightning F/X and the snort of dragon's breath? Yes, yes and yes, but it's also likely that he's not even speaking English, since much of his dialogue consists of mumbled incantations along the lines of "gabba gabba hey." The rest of the time, when he's not laughing maniacally ("bwaa-HA-HA-HA!"), you can't make him out because his mouth is so full of scenery he makes Gilbert Gottfried look like Sir Laurence Olivier.

The story? As derivative as they come, with a "Star Wars"-ish plot involving an imperiled empress (Thora Birch, possessing all the gravitas of Britney Spears). There's even a cantina scene rip-off of sorts, set in the lair of underworld boss Xilus ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show's" Richard O'Brien). Anyway, Empress Savina (Birch) wants to bring equality to the commoners of the land of Izmer, that is those who don't possess the gift of magic. (The heck with "equality," give them magic.) Needless to say, she's undermined in her populist campaign by Profion, who wants to wrest from her the scepter that controls the green dragons. (Did I mention the story was derivative and moronic?)

Even more powerful than that stick, though, is the Rod of Savrille, another magic wand that controls the red dragons. (That's right: red trumps green.) Plucky commoners Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans) are recruited in that quest by Marina (Zoe McLellan), a Mage hottie loyal to Savina, and the three of them soon join forces with an angry dwarf (Lee Arenberg) and a sexy, 234-year-old elf (Kristen Wilson) to find it before Profion's henchman, Damidar (Bruce Payne in blue lipstick), finds them. You can tell that co-writers Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright at least read some J.R.R. Tolkien – however it appears to have been while watching "I Dream of Jeannie" reruns on Nick at Night and listening to the "Rocky Horror" soundtrack on the MP3 player.

The barely postadolescent half of the cast, who seem to have wandered off the set of some canceled WB series, is even worse than Irons, and their dialogue is peppered with such contempo slang as "payback." Wayans, who's meant to provide comic relief, strangely gets no laughs, possibly as a result of the fact that, in the muddy sound mix, a line like "Are you crazy? You just zapped the chief of the Crimson Brigade!" comes out sounding like "Are you crazy? Eejusap dacheef-da clemps pigade!"

The film's visuals are basically low-rent Frank Frazetta, with extras looking for all the world like sci-fi groupies from a "Star Trek" convention who wandered into the Renaissance Festival next door. Bizarrely costumed folks with pointy ears, three eyes and purple skin mingle with serfs and wenches in tights, codpieces, leather jerkins and harem pants. It's the filmmaking equivalent of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, except this is one hybrid no one ought to touch.

In parting, one question for filmmaker Courtney Solomon (remember the name, lest anyone ever give him money again): Why, if half the characters here are magic, is there so much punching, stabbing and kicking? Wouldn't it be simpler to just zap someone with a handful of pixie dust?

"Dungeons & Dragons" (PG-13, 108 minutes) – Contains rivers of fire, one generally unbloody death, swordplay and sexual innuendo regarding the relative merits of sex with dwarfs versus elves.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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