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At the Movies: 'Reign of Fire'

Category: Reign of Fire Reviews
Article Date: July 10, 2002 | Publication: The Associated Press | Author: DAVID GERMAIN, AP Movie Writer

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If dragons decimated our world, leaving ashen ruins and a few pocketfuls of people behind, the survivors might well envy the dead.

Sitting through that dragon Armageddon scenario as presented in "Reign of Fire," it's likely the audience that will be envious of the deceased.

The idea is a cool variation of the end-of-the-world story, mythical fire-breathing beasts putting humanity on the ropes. And "Reign of Fire" does offer decent visual effects of dragons and burned-out cities, plus a moody reincarnation of cloistered, medieval wretchedness as humans hide like rodents behind thick castle walls. But director Rob Bowman and a gaggle of screenwriters that took a pass at the script squander it all on a half-baked plot drowning in testosterone.

It's a fantastical story that requires real finesse to secure the audience's tolerance, and the filmmakers just don't deliver, letting "Reign of Fire" sink into silliness.

The movie's basically a weenie roast, the weenies being the shallow, unpleasant characters who alternate between mournful supplication for deliverance from dragons and squabbles among themselves over who's king of the castle.

Christian Bale is bland as Quinn, leader of a clan of Britons passively hoping to wait out the dragons, which have so ravaged the planet that they're beginning to starve because the human food supply is running out.

As American "dragon slayer" Van Zan - with shaved head, cutoff sleeves and unlit cigar rammed halfway down his throat - Matthew McConaughey is swaggeringly repellent, an outlandish stereotype of John Wayne bluster.

The movie opens in the present as a construction crew led by Quinn's mother (Alice Krige) awakens a dragon slumbering beneath London.

The best part of the movie is the brief montage that follows, using pseudo-newsreel footage and headlines to encapsulate two decades of warfare between dragons and humans, ending with the dragons pretty much running the show.

Jumping ahead to 2020, Quinn and his lieutenant (Gerard Butler) struggle to hold together their shabby band of survivors. Then the Yanks arrive, militia leader Van Zan and a convoy of armored vehicles and a helicopter, with a plan to annihilate the beasts by slaying the lone alpha-male dragon whose seed spawns the entire race (and to heck with Darwin and natural selection, let's come up with a feeble plot point to make it really easy for humankind to best the beasties).

The movie's obligatory female lead is Izabella Scorupco as Alex, Van Zan's fearless chopper pilot.

Shot in Ireland, "Reign of Fire" has a handful of rousing action sequences, stark settings and some gripping images. Bowman, a veteran of "The X-Files" who directed that franchise's big-screen film, does have a keen cinematic eye.

The human story, though, is thin and overloaded with manly men bellowing at one another, always ready to duke it out. That machismo is underscored by Edward Shearmur's music, which flits from brass and bass cacophony to drab military snare-drum arrangements.

As discordant as the music is the babble of voices. Half the time, the characters shout incoherently.

And McConaughey is almost incomprehensible, sounding like a dazed Hell's Angel early on, segueing into a psychotic Ahab and finishing like some hoary homeless guy ranting about fire and brimstone on a street corner.

"Reign of Fire," released by Disney's Touchstone Pictures, is rated PG-13 for intense action violence. Running time: 102 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.


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