It's a given that acting occasionally involves public humiliation, but is it the only profession in which success increases the chances of humiliation? Take Jeremy Irons: At the turn-of-the-'90s, he took on one interesting role after another but the years since he's segued largely into big-budget productions haven't been nearly so kind. That Eragon, adapted from the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels by Christopher Paolini, is the second film this decade in which Irons hams it up in the presence of dragons says everything about the perils of having a hefty fee and an English accent.
Of the first film, the 2000 role-playing game adaptation Dungeons & Dragons, the less said the better. Speaking of the latest involves a little less invective, but still requires words like "derivative" and "lumbering." Paolini began writing Eragon at the age of 15 and the story plays like the jumble of influences a bright 15-year-old might enjoy: A little Anne McCaffrey, a little Star Wars, and a lot of J.R.R. Tolkien. Those aren't the worst building blocks with which to build a fantasy film, but visual-effects-artist-turned-director Stefen Fangmeier's Eragon is a pretty rickety construction and, worse yet, one that feels less inspired by its influences than patched together from them. The characters speak of a world-spanning fantasy universe, but it's too easy to imagine that they're walking around sets left over from The Lord Of The Rings.
Broody, not-so-inspiring newcomer Edward Speleers stars as a farm boy living humbly under the oppression of a dark lord (John Malkovich at his John Malkovichiest). Unexpectedly, Speleers comes across a mysterious stone that hatches a baby dragon that quickly grows into a full-grown beastie who communicates with him telepathically in the voice of Rachel Weisz. Full of good advice and a thirst for vengeance, she's part caring mom, part pit bull and the pair quickly bond and take to the sky under the watchful eye of the Obi-Wan Kenobi-ish Irons, who tutors them in the ways of the world with such helpful bits of knowledge like, "Magic comes from dragons." (A line that, it must be said, probably would sound even sillier not coming from an Academy Award winner.)
With no momentum and no real characters to care about, the film lumbers its way toward a grand, sequel-setting finale. That's probably a bit too optimistic. If Eragon proves anything, it's that not all dragons produce magic.