September 20, 2007

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Dragon Wars (PG-13)
Ancient Korean warriors are reincarnated as Robert Forster and two D-list actors in Dragon Wars, a movie in which giant CGI snakes do unconvincing CGI battle.

I suppose it could be unfair to call Amanda Brooks, who along with Jason Behr takes most of the screen time here, a D-list actor. This is her first “major” role. With any luck, in 10 years she’ll look back on this and laugh. Jason Behr, on the other hand, is probably doomed. Fellow Roswell-alums Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy) and Emilie de Ravin (Claire from Lost) have probably used up all the success coupons for that The WB show. Thus Behr toils in this movie and the recent, unintentionally hilarious Skinwalkers.

Dragon Wars has its chuckles too. A young boy finds a box full of special-effects lighting and a cheesy-looking prop at an antiques shop. Jack (Forster), the store’s owner, proceeds to tell him an extremely long-winded tale about a Korean girl with a birthmark shaped like a dragon and how her lover refused to let her be eaten, or whatever, by a giant snake on her 20th birthday, as was her destiny. (Apparently, a giant snake has to eat a birthmarked girl once every several hundred years and turn into a dragon or else bad things happen.) Actually, two giant snakes were after her, one good and one evil, and, Jack tells the boy, the big snakes are going to return because the girl has been reborn, as has her lover. Really, says the boy, where? It’s you, you’re the lover/protector of birthmark-girl, says Jack, now, here take this necklace and good luck finding the girl before she gets eaten by the bad snake.

Fast-forward several years and the boy, Ethan (Behr), has grown into a TV journalist with bad hair and a wardrobe of Larry from Three’s Company shirts. An explosion — which is never really mentioned again after it serves its purpose of kick-starting the aforementioned story in a flashback — reminds him of his sacred feeding-a-girl-to-a-snake destiny and he sets off looking for Sarah (Amanda Brooks), the girl with the dragon birthmark. Naturally, this search is harder than a simple Google for “Asian-themed birthmarks” and “snake food.” The evil snake and its human-like followers are also looking for the girl and before you can say “CGI destruction” Los Angeles becomes a battleground of former WB star versus snake.

Dragon Wars has many moments of utterly baffling film-making choices — Behr’s shiny 1970s-meets-Parker Lewis Can’t Lose shirts, the ultimately useless necklace of destiny, Sarah’s means of support, the paranormal activity and mythical creatures division of the F.B.I, Robert Forster’s character’s ability to shape shift, Forster’s appearance in this movie at all, why if this myth and everything to do with it are Korean all of the reincarnated characters are white and living in Los Angeles. I’m sure there are more. But allow me to focus on another one — Ethan’s ability to open any door and surmount any obstacle simply by waving around his TV badge and whinily saying “I’m with the press.”

“You can’t visit the crazy girl with the dragon mark; it’s not visiting hours in the hospital until tomorrow.”

“But I’m with the press.”

“Oh well then by all means…”

You know what “I’m with the press” gets you in real life? Usually an insult and a security escort to the door. “I have $100 in cash with your name on it” is a much better persuasive argument in getting people to help you do things you’re not supposed to.

“I have $100 in cash with your name on it” might also be the only really good argument for seeing this movie. Should some ticket-taker make you such an offer, though, I would definitely ask for the money up front. D-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and creature action. Written and directed by Hyung-rae Shim, Dragon Wars is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Freestyle.