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Dungeons and Dragons, a Review
by Chris Nett | Jan 23, 2001

starring: Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Justin Whalen & Marlon Wayans

Will you like Dungeons & Dragons? Take this home test:

Buy a six-pack of expensive, tasty imported beer. Open each bottle, dump out the expensive, tasty contents, crush each bottle (not too finely!), and proceed to eat the glass. If you enjoy the feeling of jagged shards ripping your digestive and excretory tracts to shreds, you may enjoy this movie.

Then again, you still may not.

Dungeons & Dragons is a movie based on an immensely popular role-playing game, also called Dungeons & Dragons (convenient, no?). In the game, a party of adventurers generally go on some sort of quest, filled with peril, but with the promise of great reward. The game is most often played in a fantasy world, populated by a variety of races (humans, elves, dwarves, etc.) who hold a variety of occupations (fighters, thieves, wizards, clerics, etc.).

I spent my high school and early college years living on Dungeons & Dragons, so I guess I could take a role-players viewpoint on this review. However, one doesn't need to be a role-player to want to tear one's eyes out halfway through this film.

Here's the gist:

The empire of Izmer is governed by an elite class of wizards known as mages. The common folk of the empire aren't too fond of these stuck-up, magic-using, beard-sporting (for the most part), robe-wearing intellects. The new young empress Savina (Thora Birch, who also played Kevin Spacey's daughter in the Oscar-winning film American Beauty) wants to set mages and commoners as equals, while the powerful mage Profion (Jeremy Irons) will stop at nothing to see that doesn't happen. Profion tries to convince the council of mages to force the empress to relinquish her crown and scepter (which also happens to control Gold Dragons).

All the while, an elder mage has been trying, with the help of his apprentice, Marina (Zoe McKlellan), to decipher a scroll that points the way to a scepter of Red Dragon control. Unbeknownst to them, they are being spied on by an imp controlled by Profion.

On the other side of town, two thieves, Ridley (Justin Whalin, who played Jimmy Olson on TV's Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and Snails (Marlon Wayans, the really, really, REALLY annoying Wayans brother) decide they need to break into the mages' school and steal some goodies. Marina discovers them, captures them with a spell, and brings them to her master, only to be attacked by the captain of the Crimson Guard (and Profion's lackey), Damodar (Bruce Payne), who has been sent to retrieve the scroll leading to the scepter of Red Dragon control. The three escape, and thus begins their great adventure to save the kingdom.

Of course, when I say "their great adventure to save the kingdom," I really mean an hour-and-a-half of pitifully inept actors (or good actors acting pitifully inept) delivering pitifully inept dialogue under pitifully inept direction.

So, where do I begin to criticize this film? I'll start with the direction. This was Courtney Solomon's first time in the director's chair, and boy, could you tell. He seemed to have three main directing thrusts:

  1. Talk slower. (As in, "You don't sound evil enough. Talk slower.")
  2. Use a deeper, more gravelly voice. (As in, "You don't sound evil enough. Use a deeper, more gravelly voice.")
  3. Act more like Chris Tucker. (As in, "Marlon, you aren't nearly annoying enough just being yourself. Act more like Chris Tucker.")

Solomon also appears to love computer-generated imagery. Many of the exterior shots of the mages' school seem to be thrown in just so he could play with his new copy of RenderMan.

The acting is another problem. Does Jeremy Irons have an incredibly melodramatic doppelganger? Or was that really him chewing through dialogue onscreen like Dom DeLouise enjoying a turkey dinner? Irons apparently thinks playing a bad guy entails waving one's arms and clenching one's fists in a menacing way. Oh yeah, and using a deeper, more gravelly voice (remember Courtney's Directing Thrust No. 2).

I seem to recall I liked Thora Birch in American Beauty. So what happened here? I can only conclude that, like Jeremy Irons, she was subverted by Master Director Courtney Solomon -- there can be no other reason for her wooden and ghastly performance.

Bruce Payne is another student of Courtney Solomon, only he focuses more on Thrust No. 1, Talk Slower. Every time he opened his mouth I was afraid he would fall asleep between words (I know I came close to passing out a few times). And Marlon Wayans is, unfortunately, Marlon Wayans, with just enough Chris Tucker thrown in to make him even less likable than normal. There's only so many times you can see Wayans scream like an adolescent girl before your mouth is burning from vomiting into it.

The rest of the acting was neither here nor there -- no one stood out as incredibly bad, but no one stood out as good, either.

Let's move on to the dialogue. I don't know that I've ever heard such a continuous pile of drivel flow from the mouths of actors. I'd site specific examples, but I couldn't bring myself to pay attention long enough to the dialogue to actually remember any specific examples on this, the morning after viewing the film. It will suffice to say that elves are wise (we get this pounded into our brains), dwarves are not (also pounded into our brains), and it's okay to scream like a girl when you're breaking into a mages' school -- no one will hear.

The story writing flat-out sucked. It was full of inconsistencies -- Marina casts spells like no one's business in the beginning of the film, but then plays the hapless female victim for the remainder of the movie. The head of the Thieves Guild has a maze, whose prize is a huge ruby egg, but hasn't actually been able to figure the maze out himself (despite the fact that it only has three puzzles, each less complicated than the one before). How did he rise to become head of the Thieves Guild? Stealing women's hearts? Pilfering candy from babies? I could continue, but I can feel the bile rising in my throat as I type.

Please, run as far away from this movie as you are able. Or, better yet, become a mage, gain experience, and as soon as you are high enough level, fireball Courtney Solomon, so we never again need bear witness to a poorly executed Dungeons & Dragons movie. The movie-going world will thank you for it.