Movie News & Reviews

'Dragonball' will appeal to its cartoon fans

Unless I'm mistaken, and I really was too lazy to look it up, thisweek marks the two-year anniversary of this column.

Since then, I've reviewed around 150 movies, had almost two dozen pageviews, and been arrested four times for public indecency in a theater.In fairness, three of those times were during College — like Itold the police, of course my pants fell down, how am I supposed tokeep them up when I'm using my belt to hang myself? — but I guess Ihave no excuse for the fourth one. What can I say, The DarkKnight was really good.

So what's special about the two-year mark? Absolutely nothing.Just like every week, when I get up tomorrow at the crack of 12:30,I'm going to go install myself in a movie seat, nap through whatever'son, then come home and copy/paste the IMDb comments section to myeditor, who thinks the Internet is witchcraft (that's why he makes mecapitalize it) and thus can't get wise to my game. This is just onemore week. Much like my romantic experiences, this anniversary — inthis case, Dragonball Evolution — cost $7 and I'll forget ittomorrow.

Justin Chatwin is just like any other teenage boy: he’s awkward aroundgirls, feels weird and different, and spends his days trying to learnto kill things with his externalized ki.

But an ancient power has returned to the world. James Marsters, themarauding alien who was imprisoned beneath the earth 2,000 years ago,has returned to claim the dragonballs which will grant him ultimatepower.

His search soon takes the life of Chatwin's grandpa, the man who’draised him since birth. Alone in the world, Chatwin must now seek hisvengeance and get to the dragonballs before Marsters can turn them toevil.

I can’t claim great familiarity with the Dragonballcartoons — it lost me about the dozenth time an episode burned half itslength on two characters flying in the air and bellowing at eachother — but director James Wong neatly avoids the worst traps ofadapting an epic cartoon to the live-action big screen.

Cartoons can get away with being exaggerated, excitable and oversized(industry tip: I've heard this referred to as "cartoonish") becausethat's what we're used to seeing. After the better part of a centuryof animated coyotes getting flattened by anvils and boy rabbitscorrupting the youth with volcanic sets of falsies, if a cartoon's gota jetpack monkey sidekick or an oafish caveman from the year 10,000,nobody blinks an eye.

But direct translations of those things to live-action is murder on amovie (see Racer, Speed). While Wong eventually builds up tothe enormous soul-karate beatdowns, his first fight scenes are muchmore grounded in reality. Energetic and lightly comic, they'recartoonish without being distracting.

Ben Ramsey's script takes the same tack, tossing off a few offhandjokes without ever descending into the anime-prevalent "comic relief"that makes you want to earn a doctorate in assassination and one byone eliminate everyone who had anything to do with those awful, awfuljokes. Likewise, the dialogue borders on the cheesy without evercrossing into never-never land.

Dragonball is less successful in holding onto its menagerie ofside characters and a mythology that's pretty much just dumped in ourlaps. Some people are aliens, others are demon-spirits, and others aretechno-Batmen; I'm not really sure of the wider significance of any ofthis, but at least things are moving right along.

Without the people or backstory to really suck you in,Dragonball never finds a way to distinguish itself as anythingmore than a generic quest movie where some weird shit happens and thenpeople punch each other a lot. It's light enough along the way, but Idoubt it'll have much appeal to anyone who isn't already a fan.

Grade: C+