October 1, 2007

Dragons? We Don't Need No Stinking Dragons!

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A movie titled as brazenly as Dragon Wars ought to deliver on the claims of that title and give us a movie in which dragons go to war, either with each other or against someone, or something, else. In this assumption, one would be largely mistaken. There is only one dragon in this movie, and it makes an appearance for just over five minutes (I timed it). Though I have no particular love of dragons, I do feel that a movie that promises not only multiple dragons but dragon wars ought to deliver. Though there are practically no dragons, there are giant snakes, which may be satisfying to those who aren’t particular about their giant reptilian monsters. It’s important to note that these giant snakes are awfully rendered, and look like pre-Jurassic Park level effects, as far as the CGI is concerned. Already, we’ve eliminated potential viewers who love dragons (almost none to be found) and special effects (they’re shoddy). And just in case there’s anyone left still inclined to check it out, let me make things as clear as possible: don’t.

The plot is convoluted, and worse, boring. Barring a few odd flashbacks and interludes the film is a series of chase scenes in which the leads run away from giant reptilian animals. Some nonsense about reincarnation and fate is haphazardly thrown into the mix. The references to Korean mythology seem to be included to fill time rather than advance what plot there is. The introductory flashback to 1700 Korea is hardly edifying, proving only that, as far as this movie concerned, it was just as boring as modern L.A..

This mess of a film begins when reporter Ethan Kendrick starts having weird dreams that inspire him to track down Sarah (Amanda Brooks) who contains some sort of mystical force of heavenly provenance that turns giant snakes into dragons (I shit you not). The evil dragon is awake and searching for her, wrecking most of downtown L.A. in the process. This chase, such as it is, takes up most of the movie as Ethan and Sarah run from this snake by car, foot and, briefly, helicopter. There are also armies of some sort of crazy ninja soldiers after them, with armies of Pterodactyls and large elephant-like animals with crazy bazookas attached to their shoulders. These animals look like refugees from Lord of the Rings, only rendered less believably.

The movie ends in a final, prolonged confrontation between a dragon and snake that takes place in a barren hellscape that’s supposedly found in … Mexico? By the end of the movie I wasn’t so much celebrating the triumph of good over evil as wondering how Ethan was going to walk back to L.A. from the middle of the desert. The only thing enjoyable about the movie was the inclusion of Craig Robinson (Darryl from The Office) as Ethan’s cameraman, Bruce. He acts as the only genuinely funny comic relief within the whole tedious affair and even more impressively, he manages to stay alive for the duration of the movie, which was a pleasant surprise (I had him marked on my scorecard as the first one to have his head bitten off).
With its fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to film-making, this movie doesn’t so much defy logic as trample all over it, merrily neglecting other cinematic niceties like pacing, continuity and character development. But, to give Dragon Wars it’s due, it did surpass my expectations: I expected it to be stupid and poorly executed and, in fact, it was extremely stupid and poorly executed.