Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/20/06 19:27:12

"Silly fun, and not just for basement dwellers."
3 stars (Just Average)

The world, as they say, if full of surprises. This week’s surprise: a cheapjack, shot-in-Lithuania-with-an-affordable-unknown-cast direct-to-video sequel to one of the decade’s biggest flops is actually pretty darn enjoyable. Go figure.

A DTV sequel to “Dungeons & Dragons” seems like fifty kinds of bad ideas, and yet “Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God” manages to be plenty of fun anyway. None of the behind-the-scenes folks responsible for the first film return here, which is a very good thing; replacing them are director (and DTV veteran) Gerry Lively and writers Robert Kimmel and Brian Rudnick, who together make up a group of guys which genuinely love the role-playing game on which these films are based, and as such make a movie that reflects such love. They deliver a low-key adventure packed with the kind of fantasy that’s endlessly ridiculous yet loveable in a Harryhausen kind of way.

In fact, the whole thing plays out in that same sort of cornball style that populated so many fantasy epics of the 1960s; you half expect an army of stop-motion skeletons to pop up somewhere. The budget leaves it not quite as good as the most memorable of those pictures - the CGI is embarrassingly limp, and in one shot we can easily see a character’s sword puncture what is supposed to be a brick wall (but is, instead, painted foam!) - yet there’s a charm on display here that makes up for the gaps. “Dragon God” is exactly the kind of giddy old-school adventure its predecessor should have been.

The convoluted plot finds the evil Damodar (Bruce Payne), the lone returning character from the first movie, stealing some powerful orb that contains the hidden powers of a dragon god, powers that he plans to use to destroy the land of Ismir, a kingdom that looks remarkably like present-day Lithuania with a bunch of Renfest extras running around. Berek (Mark Dymond), a former warrior now spending his days as the kingdom’s benevolent tax advisor, embarks on a noble quest to retrieve the orb; fans of the game will be pleased to know that accompanying Berek on this mission are a rogue, a mage, a barbarian, and a cleric.

This particular team-up has been specially designed to give the movie a feel of a game come to life, action scenes playing out exactly as they might in the all-night twenty-sided-dice-fueled adventures in your basement. The heroes use their special talents to attack the various monsters that pop up - and they’re even nice enough to announce that they’re doing so. When, say, the mage needs to cast some spell to take down the forest creature, she actually what kind of spell she is casting, and why, and against whom, and it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit to here her say something about needing to roll a certain kind of die, plus so many points.

That’s all fine and dandy for the fan patrol, but what about the rest of us, the schleps who’ve never played D&D before (or may have long ago but forget everything about it)? Well, it still works. The script is full of nods to the gamers but not in such a way that nothing makes sense to the newbie. It all comes out as fantasy nonsense, but it’s an amusing fantasy nonsense. The action is brisk, the story larger than life but not too overreaching, the dialogue deliciously corny, the characters (and the cast portraying them) worth following for 105 minutes.

This is a movie that wishes simply to be light entertainment, which it achieves. It knows what its audience wants, and it delivers, and if it’s on a lower scale, then at least it’s on a satisfying one. “Dragon God” is obviously not for all tastes, but if you can make it through such proper nouns as “Damodar,” “Ismir,” “Berek,” and “The Orb of Faradul” without giggling too much, then chances are pretty good you’ll find enough here to make for some solid low-rent fantasy entertainment.

Plus, Marlon Wayans isn’t in it, so that’s a major plus, right?

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