April 16, 2009

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Dragonball Evolution (PG)
Teenage martial arts experts and some old dudes search for the mystical objects that could save humanity in Dragonball Evolution, the boy movie that can entertain the male siblings of the girls over in the Hannah Montana theaters.

It is, apparently, my week for baffling kids’ movies. I’ll give Dragonball this, though: while much of its humor was unintentional, it was much funnier than Hannah Montana.

The old dudes are Grandpa Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) and Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat), his friend who we meet a bit later in the movie, when Goku (Justin Chatwin), grandson to Gohan, sets out on his quest. The purpose of the quest is to find seven dragonballs, which when brought together have the power to grant a wish. Goku is not alone in his dragonball quest; the evil Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) has returned from prison in the center of the Earth (or something along those lines) to destroy the world, mwah ha ha ha ha! (Actually, the former Spike from Buffy is stiff and green behind what seems like uncomfortable make-up so he doesn’t actually get a chance for much mustache-twirling villainy unfortunately.) Both Goku and Lord Piccolo have martial-arts-girl assistants — Bulma (Emmy Rossum) and Mai (Eriko Tamura), respectively. Goku also has a love interest — Chi Chi (Jamie Chung) — and assorted other friends who join the quest to crack wise and help with the fighting and the pratfalls.

When it isn’t being funny with its hammy acting (which, actually, may be more intentional than it appears), it’s being strange with its hackneyed humor, some of which still bears the manga weirdness about old guys ogling young girls. And I’m not sure what to make of its future ancient-Japanese (with skyscrapers) setting or its clunky plot that ends by making some rather large hole-leaving leaps. Director James Wong has a resume — the Final Destination movies, The X-Files, Millennium — full of doing fun and quirky things with fantasy nonsense and it’s too bad he didn’t let more of that shine through here.

So what would make Dragonball Evolution a better movie? Well, let me put it this way — I don’t smoke pot myself but the, I’m guessing, late-teenaged-to-early-20-something group of kids sitting in the theater behind me seemed to really be into the movie. Really into the movie. Like, “duuuude” into the movie. Maybe they were just, er, high on dragonball. But they were having a great time. This was clearly a movie ticket well purchased for them. And, in a similar camaraderie-and-added-happiness-influenced state, I could see myself feeling the same way.

Also, I learned something at Dragonball. About a year ago, my stepson (who is now nine and on-and-of watched the Dragonball cartoon) developed a very strange, sitcomy sense of humor. The phrases like “that’s gotta hurt” and “good times, good times” became a regular and aggravating part of his not-always-correctly-applied comic repertoire. This movie has that sense of humor. It’s a mix of sitcomy ham from 10 years ago (or more) and a slight electronics instruction manual-type off-ness in the verbiage. It’s a bit like what would happen if According to Jim merged with your DVD player’s warranty form. It’s odd and probably to the dude-kids very funny. For me, the movie was comforting — it’s good to know that my stepson didn’t develop bad comic timing all on his own. C

Rated PG for intense sequences of action/violence and brief mild language. Directed by James Wong and written by Ben Ramsey (from manga by Akira Toriyama), Dragonball Evolution is an hour and 25 minutes long and distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.