Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 12/8/00

Although I am of the right age group to have participated in the Dungeons & Dragons craze during the late '70s and early '80s, and I remember the game being a permanent fixture in the lobby of my college dorm, I never actually played it myself. At first I thought this would hamper my ability to enjoy the film, but I was wrong. The reason I hated the film is because of bad acting, bad scriptwriting, bad effects, a stupid story, bad directing, and the fact that I never played the game. With formerly distinguished actors giving the worst performances of their lives to date and cheesy effects like the kind you'd see on Power Rangers, the movie is much more stupid than you could possibly imagine, and unless you are a former (or current) D&D junkie, director Courtney Solomon's debut will make you wish you had chosen to see any other film currently playing at your local cineplex. But at least Solomon can look on the bright side: his first film provides him with the happy prognosis that there's no way to go but up.

Written by Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright, based on the game by E. Gary Gygax, Dungeons & Dragons is set in the mythical land of Ismere, where the pert young Empress Savina, played with spectacular woodenness by American Beauty's Thora Birch, worries about the inequity between the empire's two social classes. It seems the mages, made up of upper-class folks like herself, enjoy a rich, pampered lifestyle unknown among the commoners (ruffians, elves, dwarves, and regular smelly peasants). Though she wants to dissolve the barriers between the two and declare equal justice for all, her councilmen, led by the openly evil Profion (Jeremy Irons), plan to maintain superiority by userping her all-powerful scepter. But she doesn't want to give it up, so Profion sends his henchman Damodar (a blue-lipped Bruce Payne, very self-conscious about his blue lips) to find the legendary Rod of Savrille, purported to be even more powerful than the scepter.

Enter the young, hunky Ridley (Justin Whalin) and his friend Snails (Marlon Wayans), two common thieves who, while attempting a burglary of the magic school, meet up with mage Marina (Zoe McLellan) and hear about the Rod. Joined by a dwarf (Lee Arenberg) and an elf (Kristen Wilson), they decide to forget their class differences and work together to find the rod before Damodar, thus saving the empress, restoring order to the land, and possibly making a little scratch on the side.

Most of the acting is howlingly bad in this film, especially Birch, who, despite all her gold spray-painted costume accessories, can't look royal to save her soul. She is unable to deliver a line effectively, and the fact that she doesn't have that much screen time does not affect her standing as the owner of the film's worst performance. Irons, however, tries valiantly to top her for sheer putrescence; his evil villain is so over the top it's laughable, and ditto for Payne. The performances of Whalin, McLellan, and Wayans are dully standard, with Wayans regularly spouting hip, contemporary street talk that clashes violently with the 11th-century European-looking settings. There is one scene that is slightly interesting to watch, when Ridley attempts to navigate his way through the booby-trapped maze of crime lord Nilus (Richard O'Brien). Each room of the maze offers a different challenge, and O'Brien's crazed performance adds sorely needed energy to the proceedings. Of course, there are a few interesting visuals involving flying dragons and the magical, medieval countryside. But for the most part, Dungeons & Dragons will have you craving a potion that will transport you back in time to before you bought your ticket.

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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