Even If You Liked the Game, You Won't Like the Movie

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Even If You Liked the Game, You Won't Like the Movie

Twenty-five years ago the game known as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) became a craze. This fantasy role-playing game, filled with goblins and ogres, had young enthusiasts playing for days and nights on end, worrying mothers and causing controversy as a new catalyst for youth decay.

For those that had a life, and didn't want to memorize the enormous volumes of accompanying rule books required to play the game, there were also fantasy adventure novels that were published as a result of the game's popularity.

It's amazing that a phenomenon so immensely popular could share the same title of a movie so awful. Perhaps it's the fault of first-time director Courtney Solomon, whose only real qualification for directing this film is that he bought the rights to D&D back in 1990.

Other than having the same trademark name, there is little else to connect the movie with the game. In fact, "Dungeons & Dragons" is inappropriately titled because there isn't even a scene with a dungeon throughout the film.

The kingdom of Izmer has long been ruled by mages, an elite group of human magic users. When the new Empress Savina (Thora Birch of "American Beauty") suggests relinquishing their power so that commoners may also enjoy prosperity and equality, a majority of the mages sees her as unfit to rule.

The evil Profion (Jeremy Irons) is the most vocal of these mages, and secretly plans to take over the entire kingdom for himself. To accomplish this, he needs the legendary Rod of Savrille that controls the powerful red dragons, and sends his ruthless military commander Damodar to retrieve it.

While Profion sets his plan of destruction into motion, two unsuspecting thieves, Ridley and Snails (Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans), are caught by the mage apprentice Marina as they unsuccessfully attempt to rob the magic school. But instead of placing them in the hands of the authorities, Marina enlists their help to find the rod before Damodar. Along the way, they team up with Elwood the dwarf and the Empress's elf tracker Norda, who are both so silent in the course of this film that they basically could have been left out.

The hero-saves-the-day theme of the film follows in a long tradition of other action and fantasy movies. Unlike "Dune" though, the characters are too shallow to connect with or care about. And while Spielberg always kept us on the edge of our seats with well designed trap scenes that Indiana Jones just barely managed to escape, the trap scene in "Dungeons & Dragons" is far more simplistic and looks like something taken from the set of "Xena - Warrior Princess."

As for comic relief, Marlon Wayans and Justin Whalin are not at all funny and resemble a bickering couple that you wish would just shut up. The only thing worth laughing at during this movie is what the director wanted to be touching moments when the empress discusses her ideas of freedom and justice. Irons tries hard to give this movie some spice, and screams a good deal while throwing his lightning spells about. Damodar was also played convincingly with a cynical performance by Bruce Payne, but it gets a bit tiring to see him constantly underestimate his foes. When he is challenged by the not-so-tough guys he repeatedly says "You must be joking," or some other similar one-liner every five minutes.

In addition to having a cheesy script, this movie poorly casts Marlon Wayans as the brainless sidekick, contributing to what the writer Toni Morrison refers to in her book "Playing in the Dark : Whiteness and the Literary Imagination," as the constant "sidelining" and consigning of the black presence to clownish or evil roles. American movies don't do this as much as American television, where virtually every all-black cast on prime time TV is part of a black comedy show, but as this movie shows, Hollywood is also occasionally guilty of this practice.

by Joseph Kim

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