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Reign of Fire

Starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco,
Screenplay by Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg; story by Chabot & Peterka
Directed by Rob Bowman

IN SHORT: Cool looking dragons. That's about it. [Rated PG-13 for intense action violence. 109 minutes]

FYI, Writers Chabot and Peterka are first timers. Greenberg has done two slice 'n' dice films. Director Bowman has spent his career in teevee. Now you know that it takes only the slightest experience to sucker in somebody with enough cash to finance a motion picture by saying nothing more than "us versus a dragon."

Reign of Fire is the best film we can think of about to demonstrate one of the most basic lessons that is supposed to be taught in film writing classes-- know all the background of all your characters and their support mechanisms, even if you never have to introduce any of that stuff in the script. Great actors will know every stubbed toe (and the incidents that caused each stub) and location of every bruise or emotional scar their character has ever had, formed as part of the creative process. Great scripts should know all of that stuff, too. Had that been the case, the woefully incomplete background of the characters in Reign of Fire may have been fleshed out enough that the flat as a pancake performances delivered by the human actors may have given us something to lock into. The thinking here seems to be "there are dragons and there are humans. The dragons want to kill humans. The humans must kill dragons to survive but there's no way to take 'em all down without a miracle. Or something." In the meantime, we get to watch computers make the firespitters spit prodigious amounts of the stuff in between chowing down on the last remnants of humanity. When they're not chowing down on each other, 'cuz they're hungry. Or when they're not munching the ash of all the stuff they've burned up spitting flame because, as we're also told, they prefer eating ash to eating humans.

We wouldn't be making such a big deal about what would otherwise not be considered inconsistencies -- hungry is hungry, after all -- but Reign of Fire is devoid of anything to divert our attention.

It starts well enough. A construction crew digging beneath the streets of London stumble across something several hundred feet down. No one wants to have a close look, except for Quinn (Ben Thornton), the twelve year old son of the construction foreperson. The kidlet doesn't find a the remnants of some ancient Arthurian civilization. No, he finds and wakes a long forgotten beastie. A dragon. A creature of myth and legend, with a ferocious appetite. In no short order, the world goes to hell in a hand basket.

Twenty years later, the great cities of Europe have nuked themselves back to the stone age. The people that have "survived" live in tunnels built as extensions of old burial vaults in rural churches. Water is scarce. Food is scarcer. There is little electricity and no entertainment, save what movies the grownups can remember and recreate on stage for the younglings. The grown up Quinn (Christian Bale) leads a small pack of survivors living under Northumberland England, about 70 miles outside of the remains of London. They are a feisty community, even if political tensions within the group are approaching meltdown stage. All are afraid that the coming harvest will not provide enough food to sustain the community for another year. Dissension leads to a break in the ranks and that leads to our first, full blast encounter with the power of the dragons that control the air.

What is even worse than dissension in the ranks is the day a fleet of trucks rides up to camp. In these trucks are the one thing that is feared even more so than the scaly beasties that spit fire and eat their own living babies. In the trucks are . . . Americans, led by a stogie chomping Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey)

How did the dragons get to the States after England nuked itself silly? Don't know. How did the Marines, who claim to have been fighting dragons in the US heartland, make it over the pond to the UK? Maybe they won the MegaLottery or something. Logic takes a back seat to firing up weapons and blasting flying beasties into itsy bitsy pieces. Sure, the troops have a story, but none of the surviving Brits believe 'em. Even more important . . . Wait Wait Wait!!! The Marines brought a hot blonde with 'em too! Something to keep our attention up, at least until the script realizes the the casting director far outdid him/herself.

This is also the time for actor Matthew McConaughey to turn his talents to portraying an action figure. One to whom traditional macho imagery is for girly men only. One who literally sweats testosterone. One who will, because without the following no actor can show "change and growth" in a character's arc, discover that all he has believed about himself has been dashed by the reality of the immovable force which he has sworn to move.

In simple English, then, Matt McConaughey wants to kick some major dragon butt, and get a second tooth to join the one he wears on a chain around his neck. In reality, even with testosterone streaming from his pores, McConaughey is not an action hero. Then again, it doesn't matter when the evil enemy is a fire spitting dragon. One that can fly as fast as a helicopter. One which can slither on the ground like a snake or a leopard. One which can see with great prowess in the day time and even better at night. One which has a taste for human flesh. or dragon flesh. or burnt ash.

It's all gonna come down to something you've seen in a far superior action flick of about a decade ago. By the time it comes down, there are no supporting characters left to care about. There has never been a strong story to care about. In fact, the only thing to care about is the Dragon. The dragon is great. Two thumbs up and all that rot. The character background development is nil and as such, no one cheered or applauded or stomped or reacted with enthusiasm in any sort of manner when the inevitable ending rolled around. Not a good thing.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Reign of Fire, he would have paid . . .


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