by Jay Seaver
Every once in a while, people look at my DVD shelf and ask why some movie or other is there, since they've heard me talk about how it stank. In the case of movies like "Dragon Wars", the explanation is that occasionally one-star movies can have four-star pieces to them. I don't think "Dragon Wars" will end up on my shelf - I've got better impulse control than I once did - but it does do one thing pretty well, even if it's awful otherwise.And let's be clear - there aren't words for how badly Dragon Wars sucks when the characters open their mouths. Calling them characters is probably generous; Ethan (Jason Behr) and Sarah (Amanda Brooks) are walking plot devices in service to a crappy story. Along with Jack (Robert Forster), they are reincarnations of players in a story of a girl prophecized to merge with an "Imoogu" (as sort of giant snake creature) so that it could become a "celestial dragon" which took place in 1507 Korea, although another giant snake has decided it wants to become a dragon, so he and his army are looking to grab the girl first. Since the virgin sacrifice and her protector fell in love and jumped off a cliff, everything apparently got put on hold for five hundred years, until Sarah's twentieth birthday. Now, there's giant snakes appearing in the Los Angeles area, but Ethan has apparently fallen in love with Sarah again and is looking to defy the prophecy, because reincarnated couples just don't learn.
"75% 1-star, 25% 4-star."
Chosen ones, prophecy, reincarnation, and destiny are generally crutches used by lazy writers, and that's the case here. Nothing Ethan and Sarah do is really their decision; they're dragged along for the ride as much as we are. Jack is a walking, shapeshifting plot device, appearing in various guises and basically pointing the other characters toward where the filmmaker wants them next. Nobody, between bouts of ridiculous-sounding exposition, says anything memorable, supporting characters appear and disappear as is convenient, and some pieces feel like they were put together in the wrong order. The finale takes place near a giant temple that you'd think people would have noticed being in the Greater Los Angeles area.
The cast is mostly people who look vaguely familiar, and none manage to distinguish themselves. I know some of them have done good work, Forster in particular, and I'm curious as to why they outright stink here. Part of it's director Shim Hyung-rae's terrible script, of course, but the cast doesn't even seem to be trying.
So why bother? Because in the middle of the movie, the evil giant serpent, and his evil general (Michael Shamus Wiles) spawn themselves an army of men, western-style dragons, and giant salamanders with missile launchers on their backs (they were somehow around in 1507 Korea, too, with no explanation given for their disappearance and reemergence) with which to attack L.A. and get at Sarah, while the National Guard breaks out their guns, tanks, and helicopters to fight back. And this, I have to admit, is a ton of fun. In contrast to the rest of the movie, Shim is actually pretty good at this. This sequence is an enthusiastic throwback to old-school disaster/monster movies with modern special effects, and folks still suffering from motion sickness from this summer's Hollywood blockbusters will probably appreciate Shim's decision to hold the camera still and not cut every three seconds so that we can actually see the mayhem. Sure, we see the occasional flaw because of it, but, honestly, it's not always a bad thing to be reminded that someone made this; a little fakeness lets things be fun rather than grim.Do the decent action scenes make up for the terrible everything else? No, not really; the parts of the movie that don't involve giant reptiles wreaking havoc are bad enough to put the audience in a foul mood that makes it harder to appreciate the good stuff. Not impossible, but hard enough that it may not be worth the effort.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16542&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/05/07 12:58:11