While warnings precede it, the first solid indication that this adaptation of the once-ubiquitous role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons may not be particularly awe-inspiring comes with the arrival of a dwarf (Lee Arenberg) who appears to stand at a not especially dwarfish 5'5"—smallish for a grown man, but hardly short enough to audition as Kid Rock's new sidekick. Set in a fantastical kingdom divided between the magic-using ruling class and the magic-free peasants, the film stars Justin Whalin (dangerously low on charisma points) and wisecracking Marlon Wayans (playing a sidekick named Snails) as happy-go-lucky thieves who inadvertently become embroiled in a scheme, sponsored by democratically minded empress Thora Birch, to undo the spell-oriented plutocracy. But Birch, whose pursed-lipped acting seems based entirely on Natalie Portman's work in The Phantom Menace, finds opposition in the form of oft-shouting bad guy Jeremy Irons. Eventually, everyone scrambles for possession of several magic objects needed to control various colors of dragons, creatures apparently more important to the pseudo-medieval economy than gold or grain. Helming a film as thoughtlessly made as its mercenary origins would suggest, first-time director Courtney Solomon leaves the plot almost impossible to follow, indulges the uninterested performances of Wayans and Irons, fails to find a compelling approach to any of the many fight scenes, and allows characters to disappear and reappear with no explanation, presumably through the magic of incompetent editing. But Solomon works a strange sort of alchemy: With an impossibly convoluted but infinitely explained storyline and abrasive action sequences, he turns the tedious into the grating and vice versa several times before the film ends. Likely to insult D&D fans while baffling all others, Dungeons & Dragons still leaves the watchable but far from extraordinary Clue standing as the best dice-oriented game adaptation of all time.
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