Reign of Fire

According to macho military commander Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), there’s only one way to combat dragons: fire with fire. In a blaze of post-apocalyptic glory, “Reign of Fire” burns up the screen with impressive fire-breathing beasts who quickly turn Earth into a ball of cinder. Too bad someone didn’t light a fire under the writers, director, and actors.

While the dragons in “Reign of Fire” reign supreme, everything else about the film lacks the same intensity. First time screen writers Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka (along with Matt Greenberg, Dimension Film’s go-to guy for horror films) have come up with a cunning concept, pitting modern man against long-dormant, nasty tempered dragons, but once they get past the initial set- up, everything literally goes up in flames.

The dragons are supposed to be the villains, but the human characters are so thinly written and extremely overplayed you root for the beasts. A lot of time and effort went into creating believable flying toasters, you just wish the filmmakers spent the same amount fixing the film’s aggravating plot holes and idiotic logic.

“Reign of Fire” starts off promising enough, with an homage to Hammer Films 1967 film “Quartermass and the Pit.” In present day London, workers digging under the subway break through to discover a cavern. Such discoveries always lead to disaster, and before you can say “Flick My Bic,” hibernating, extremely hungry and pissed-off dragons awake to make life as we know it a living hell.

In a short twenty years (short for us, a lifetime for the characters), the Earth and most of its inhabitants have been turned into dragon barbecue. The Blitz was nothing compared to the damage the dragons lay on London and its surrounding communities. Small groups of survivors avoid the beasts by hiding outside the city, but as the dragon population grows, so does their appetite.

Quinn (Christian Bale) is the leader of one such group, who use a burned-out castle as their safe haven. Reduced to desperation and hunger, the group need a miracle, and fast. It arrives in the form of American tank commander Van Zan, who has brought a small team of soldiers, including helicopter pilot Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco), to do battle with the dragons.

After Van Zan and his team successfully obliterate one dragon, Quinn and company see their first sign of hope. Van Zan has a theory about the dragons, and plans to use it against them to stop them dead in their tracks. What that theory is and how he and his team execute it is best left to those willing to sit through what could have been a really cool movie.

Instead, what we get is a sweatbox of cartoon characters, all played larger than life so they don’t become dwarfed by the real stars of the film. Not only is bigger not better here, it’s deadly. McConaughey, with his shaved head, painted-on tattoos, and cigarette butt hanging out his mouth, is obvious trying to give Vin Diesel a run for his money, but has a difficult time keeping pace.

Van Zan is all show and no emotion. He’s a machine, and with his round, saucer eyes, McConaughey looks like a live action character from Japanese Anime. Christian Bale does what he can with such a narrow role, but even this versatile actor has a hard time crawling out from underneath the weight of the special effects.

Izabella Scorupco, one of the latest Bond girls, looks and acts tough, but we never really buy the goo-goo eyes shared between her and Quinn. She’s more at home flying a helicopter than trying to navigate honest emotions. The rest of the cast feel like day players, types thrown in to make the stars look good. They didn’t do their job.

Which really doesn’t matter, because anyone who buys a ticket for “Reign of Fire” isn’t doing so to watch the actors. They’re there to see dragons, and thanks to the mostly seamless visual work of Richard Hoover, Dan DeLeeuw and their crew, the fire-breathing menaces are a sight to behold. Much like the first time we saw the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park,” the dragons in “Reign of Fire” are truly nasty critters. The chaos they create is considerably credible.

Unlike the chaos the writers and director Rob Bowman create with the rest of the film. Even under science-fiction/fantasy standards, the lapses in logic (with plot holes so big you could fly a dragon through them) are a real turn off. I know “Reign of Fire” is just a special-effects driven popcorn movie, but did it have to be a dumb popcorn movie? If the writers spent as much time fine-tuning the script as the visual effects artists did creating the dragons, this would have been a much smarter, more demanding film.

Director Bowman suffers from the sophomore jinx. His first film, “The X-Files Movie,” was filled with interesting characters, strong performances, sparkling dialogue and a sense of self-awareness. “Reign of Fire” is presented so matter-of-fact that once the dragons get done filling the skies with fire, there’s very little breathing room for anything else. If ever a movie needed a sense of humor, it’s this one.

POST TOASTIESApocalyptic dragons burn up the screen


Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler, Alice Krige. Directed by Rob Bowman. Rated PG-13. 100 Minutes.


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