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Reel Time
High-tech effects save the plot in disjointed ‘Dragon Wars’
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Hyung-Rae Shim’s “D-War: Dragon Wars”
 
Sometimes, it’s less about the content than it is about the visuals.

Hyung-Rae Shim’s “D-War: Dragon Wars” is a prime example of a movie that’s fun to watch, even though the story is perplexing at its best … and at times, downright unintelligible.

Basically, dragon-like creatures from an ancient legend appear in Los Angeles, searching for Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who is destined to sacrifice herself to transform a giant serpent into a powerful dragon that protects humanity.

A substantial portion of the multi-million dollar budget must have gone into the impressive CGI effects that mask all of the movie’s failures. And the film fails in so many ways.

Acting? Brooks falls far short of making Sarah a sympathetic character. Jason Behr, who plays TV reporter Ethan, attended the Keanu Reeves academy of impassive acting. Neither hero nor heroine conveys any tangible sense of fear, frustration or fascination with the fate ascribed to them. Robert Forster is slightly more credible as Jack, but the character’s often inexplicable actions frustrate his performance.

Interestingly, some of the best performances are delivered by those with the smallest parts in the film. The zoo custodian’s reaction to seeing an elephant being devoured by a giant serpent is far more convincing than anything Ethan’s cameraman Bruce (played by Craig Robinson of “The Office”) does or says in the film. Likewise, the hospital worker at the nurse’s station actually sounds like she’s speaking American English.

Dialogue? To say that something was lost in the translation would be accurate, if in fact the actors were speaking another language. But, no, most of “Dragon Wars” is in English. The stilted dialogue, though, suggests that writer-director Shim might have benefited from having someone more familiar with American dialect revise some of the lines to make them more manageable.

Even veteran character actor Forster – nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Jackie Brown” – seemed to have difficulty delivering some of the verbal contrivances Shim’s script put in his mouth. There must have been a conscious decision at some point in the game to follow the script verbatim: Either Shim demanded it or the actors willingly acquiesced.

Plot flaws? There were more plot flaws in this movie than un-popped kernels of corn in the biggest bucket of popcorn at the concession stand. At two points in the film the rampant defects actually manifest themselves in the dialogue.

First, as a child, Ethan turns to Jack as he’s explaining the back story and says, “What are you talking about,” a question probably on the mind of most audience members. Later, Ethan tells Sarah he needs a moment to gather his thoughts to figure out what to do next … which is probably exactly what Shim found himself saying in the middle of the script when he was trying to dream up a resolution.

For those able to ignore all these flaws, there are two incredible battle sequences in “Dragon Wars.” These scenes combine the fun of old-fashioned monster flicks with the CGI magic witnessed in recent films like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The extended fight between military helicopters and winged dragons in the steel and concrete canyons of Los Angeles is reminiscent of the dramatic dog-fights over the Death Star in “Star Wars IV: A New Hope.”

“Dragon Wars” banks on an interesting idea and state-of-the-art effects, and skimps on anything resembling continuity in its jumbled plot. The visual indulgence of its seamless CGI sequences classifies this film as purely a guilty pleasure. Don’t expect Oscar-worthy performances, don’t look for consistency in the story and don’t pay too much attention to the dialogue.

Just sit back and enjoy watching big, nasty monsters wreak havoc all over California.
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