Dragonball: Evolution

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/10/09 04:00:00

"Where Is Chris Klein When You Acually Need Him?"
1 stars (Sucks)

I was about to start this review of “Dragonball Evolution,” the latest attempt to transform an enormously popular Japanese martial-arts/fantasy property into a live-action extravaganza populated mostly by non-Asian performers, by facetiously suggesting that if you liked “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li,” which was last month’s attempt to transform an enormously popular Japanese anime property into a live-action extravaganza populated mostly by non-Asian performer, you would love this one. Unfortunately, there are two major hiccups to making such a glib comparison. For one, there is the inescapable fact that hardly anyone saw “Street Fighter” and of those who did, the only ones who liked it were those who rushed out to see it when they heard that Chris Klein delivered one of the most hilariously awful performances of all time as one of the screen’s least convincing depictions of a maverick cop who plays by his own set of rules. For another, even though “Street Fighter” was an egregiously awful movie, it at least provided a lot of unintentional laughs (mostly due to Klein, whose performance is sure to become the focus of many a mocking YouTube tribute as soon as it hits DVD) while “Dragonball Evolution” is so amazingly dull and lifeless that making it through its relatively brief 85-minute running time is a bigger struggle than any of the brawls unfolding on the screen.

Our hero is Goku (Justin Chatwin), an awkward lad who has been raised since infancy by his grandfather (Randall Duk Kim) and who is constantly being picked on by his bullying classmates, possibly because he is a round-eye with a Japanese name and possibly because he looks to be at least a decade too old to be going to high school. The film opens on Goku’s 18th birthday, a momentous occasion that begins with Gramps presenting him with a treasured possession known as a dragonball, a mysterious and powerful orb that, when united with the other six such things in existence, can grant any wish, continues with Goku blowing off celebrating his birthday with the old man in order to go to a party thrown by class cutie Chi Chi (Jamie Chung) and arriving home to discover that the place is in ruins and Grandpa near death. It turns out that the evil Lord Piccolo (an unrecognizable James Marsters), who tried to conquer the world 2000 years earlier and has been imprisoned ever since, has escaped from confinement and is attempting to gather all the dragon balls as part of a plan to destroy the Earth once and for all. This sets Goku off on a journey to look up the wise and venerable Master Roshi (Chow Yun-fat) and utilize his help to round up the other dragonballs before Piccolo can get a hold of them. Along the way, they join forces with the spunky Bulma (Emmy Rossum), whose own dragonball was stolen by Piccolo before she could utilize its power to create a cheap energy source that would make her world-famous, and the cocky Yamacha (Joon Park), who sees the dragonballs as a way to make a lot of money. It all ends, as most films of this type do, in an orgy of special effects and a long, drawn-out and barely coherent final brawl between Goku and Piccolo before the inevitable attempt in the final scene to set up a sequel that will probably hit theaters right around the time that “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li Deux” hits multiplexes.

From looking at the film’s page at IMDB, I have learned that “Dragonball Evolution” is a property that Fox rushed into production in anticipation of the Writers Guild strike of 2007, a revelation that isn’t that surprising when you see the incredibly slapdash results. The film was directed by James Wong, best known for helming a couple of the “Final Destination” films, and based on his work here, he has no idea of how to direct anything that doesn’t involve a half-naked dimwit being disemboweled as the end result of some Rube Goldberg-like machinations. Nothing about the story makes a lick of sense at all, even by the generally inexplicable standards of this particular subgenre--I suppose that someone who has versed themselves in all things “Dragonball” related since it debuted in 1984 might be able to make sense out of it but unless you have access to one of those people, that won’t be much help to you. The fight scenes are as listless as people smacking each other around can possibly be and the special effects are surprisingly shoddy for a film of this type--if this was meant to be eye candy, this is the equivalent to those rock-hard chunks of bubble gum that you used to get while trick-or-treating that you never dared to eat. Of the performers, the only one who seems remotely engaged with the proceedings is Chow Yun-fat, who is clearly having fun playing the decidedly over-the-top mentor role--of course, anyone in the audience old enough to remember him as the epitome of trenchcoated cool in the Hong Kong films of John Woo is likely to find his capering here to be incredibly depressing.

“Dragonball Evolution” is a bad movie but worse than that, it is a dead one--there is not a single spark of excitement or ingenuity on display at any point that I could discern. (It is so dull that it doesn’t even work as camp.) It is so dreadful, in fact, that I am convinced that the only reason that it is even getting a theatrical release at all is because Fox is hoping that dads and sons will go to see it this weekend while the moms and daughters flock to “Hannah Montana.” Sadly, they would probably be better served going to “Hannah Montana” as well because while that is also a fairly awful film in its own right, at least things occasionally happen in it, which is more than I can say for this one. (Also, the fight choreography in “Hannah Montana” is infinitely better.) In fact, the only thing about “Dragonball Evolution” that actually makes sense is the title--after all, there is nothing in it that even remotely suggests the existence of intelligent design.

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