Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:48 - Released 7/12/02

Poor Matthew McConaughey. You know an actor's career's in trouble when he goes from making Spielberg-directed historical dramas (Amistad) and Carl Sagan- written treatises on the nature of faith (Contact) to cheesy summer action movies about slaying dragons. Of course, after last year's The Wedding Planner, maybe the guy just can't get a job. For whatever reason, McConaughey is stuck in one of 2002's worst movies of the summer, along with Christian Bale (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Captain Corelli's Mandolin), who has apparently fallen from grace, too—that or he has a boat payment to make.

Written by first-timers Gregg Chabot and Kevin Peterka, with screenplay help by Matt Greenberg, directed by Rob Bowman of X-Files fame, Reign Of Fire should at least be a marvel of special effects, but alas, even the dragon's not very much fun. Oh, sure, it's got scaly skin, a scary face, and angrily spits napalm on anyone within range, but so does Godzilla. It's been done, folks. And on the writing side, this movie is just short of hilarious, which would be fine if it was trying to be. It's not funny enough to make you laugh, just enough to make to wish you hadn't paid the admission price.

After a short present-day prologue involving a little boy named Quinn who discovers a dragon while puttering around in a London mine shaft, the film takes place in the year 2020, after the awakening and subsequent conquest of the world by the dragon race has just about become complete. They fly around like they own the place, generally maintaining a scorched-earth policy—and I'm talking about the whole earth, people. Paris in flames. Washington D.C. a scorched rubble. Moscow in ruins. Antarctica is an immense hot tub—you get it? So all the people, like, for instance, the grown-up Quinn (Bale), live in dungeon-like strongholds and avoid these new lords of destruction, trying pathetically to raise crops that won't be barbecued before they're picked, and teaching their kids how to pray and run fast. Quinn and his best friend Creedy (Gerard Butler) are running a sort of underground orphanage in Northumberland, England, when a group of American commandos show up out of nowhere led by the wild-eyed, cigar-chomping Denton Van Zan (McConaughey), with tanks, helicopters, and a sophisticated system for catching and destroying the creatures. Not to mention a fabulous babe (Izabella Scorupco) who's an ace pilot. Together the two men and their followers must join forces to find the formidable male dragon, which is apparently the only male in the world and sire of all the others, and...well, slay it.

This movie is just plain dumb. From the ridiculous story premise to the painfully stupid dialogue to the overblown acting, it represents everything critics hate about summer action movies. The dragon effects are mildly interesting, but there's really not enough of them to justify the expenditure. The film is mostly a scenery-chewing contest between Bale and McConaughey, whose characters are forever at odds about their approaches to dragon management. The film looks bleak and depressing, with virtually everything rendered in shades of grey or black, and of course the orange of fire. This is no doubt director Bowman's intention, to evoke the desolation and despair, but since there's really no resolution to it, even at the end, it mainly just serves as a depressant. And the fact that nearly everything in the film catches fire at some point or other certainly isn't going to help you cool down during the dog days of summer. This movie is hot, but not in the good way, like Bedazzled or Debbie Does Dallas. It's hot in the bad way, like...hell.

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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