Over the holiday weekend, I found myself cornered at the Passover Seder table by a cousin (aged five-and-three-fourths years old) who seemed determined to tell me a story.
His narrative seemed to center around his life-changing trip to the International Museum of Spy History in Washington, D.C., but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It was just a list of bits and pieces of different exhibits he saw and items he purchased in the souvenir shop.
Sunday afternoon, I found myself cornered in the movie theater by an even more amateurish bit of storytelling.
“Dragonball Evolution” is a live-action adaptation of the perennial Cartoon Network favorite, “Dragon Ball,” or maybe it’s “Dragon Ball Z”, or maybe “Dragon Ball GT.” Or maybe just a coke binge; I couldn’t really tell.
The story concerns a not-even-remotely-Asian kid who is somehow the grandson of a very Asian grandfather, living in a weird multi-cultural Asia-ish place where everyone speaks English, but all the signs are in Japanese. There is some sort of evil green guy who attacked earth 2,000 years ago before being imprisoned in a giant urn at the center of the earth. Now he is mysteriously missing from the urn, which is also no longer at the center of the earth. Instead, he is on a warpath seeking revenge against… someone… for something.
I have literally no idea how to describe “Dragonball: Evolution” in a more coherent manner than the preceding paragraph of this review. Nothing makes sense. Is the hero a kung-fu master, an alien or a monkey? Hell, is the villain an alien or a demon? Why do the dragonballs keep giving the alien kung-fu monkey hero visions of the future? Why is that future so much cooler than anything that actually happens?
Come to think of it, why does the bad guy even need the dragonballs?
But story questions are clearly a waste of time with a movie like “Dragonball: Evolution.” Everything is wrong with this movie. The cinematography is cheesy, the acting is Sunday-school-pageant level and the character arcs are non-existent. All of the action scenes are shot about three feet too close, so that it is almost impossible to tell who is doing what to whom.
Even the most basic level of competence is beyond the filmmakers’ collective grasp. They got the title wrong, for chrissakes. Dragon Ball is two words, not one. I have never watched an entire episode of this show, and even I know that. And it’s not just a general disregard for franchise continuity; it’s as if the filmmakers had a personal grudge against quality. Like quality took them out to a nice dinner, spent the night and then never called back. Not even a few charming moments courtesy of kung-fu comedy master Stephen Chow can save this dreck.
At one point, director James Wong was on my list of talents to watch. He did some of the best episodes of “The X-Files,” and his directorial debut, “Final Destination,” holds a place among my favorite black comedies. His action romp, “The One,” proved that he is a more-than-capable action director, but what happened? Between this film and his abysmal “Black Christmas” remake, one is left to ponder, how does one go from “X-Files” mythology to being outdone by a 5-year old, in a genre designed to appeal to 5-year olds?