Del reviews ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and Hugh Grant. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. 2 hours, 14 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release.

Del’s take

“Honor Among Thieves” is silly, stupid, fun, and undeniably entertaining, even for an avowed hater of all things fantasy. Yet there’s little meat on the ribs of this escapist fantasy showing at a theater near you – assuming a theater near you remains in operation.

The story is about widower Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), whose wife was killed by a vile group of conjurers known as the Red Wizards. Edgin, along with growling sidekick Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), half-baked wizard Simon (Justice Smith) and shapeshifter druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) embark on a quest to retrieve a relic that can bring back Edgin’s wife. Along the way they must free Edgin’s estranged daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) from the clutches of Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), a former ally who has turned traitor, and thwart the restoration of the Red Wizards, led by Sofina (Daisy Head).

It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

The journey takes them through various magical realms where they meet new friends and defeat old enemies. Talking corpses, overweight dragons, raging owlbears and magic portals make for a colorful if not eventful quest.

Humor is pervasive, which suggests “Honor Among Thieves” does not take itself that seriously. And with Chris Pine leading the campaign, how could it? Pine imbues Edgin with plenty of James Tiberious Kirk – alternating swagger and joke-cracking – as he and his merry band of adventurers tumble from one cliffhanger to the next. The movie’s standout performer is Smith as fumbling Simon, the wizard with a heart of gold. Simon pines for Doric (Lillis) and along the way discovers that with sufficient self confidence he can reasonably go toe-to-toe with a powerful mage like Sofina.

“Honor Among Thieves” closely follows the Marvel model of moviemaking – lots of action, gorgeous special effects, not much in the way of character development or world-building, and a thin plot to frame the action sequences without telling too much of a story. Entertaining, yes. Memorable? Hardly. It’s like having a Mimosa and Eggs Benedict for brunch: By mid-afternoon you’re already wondering what’s for dinner.

As quests go “Honor Among Thieves” doesn’t compare to “Lord of the Rings.” It’s like “Narnia” with dirty jokes. You’ll be entertained but a day later you won’t remember a thing.

But do see the movie in a theater if possible. Only a theater can deliver the grandeur, and the shared experience, that all movies deserve.

I give “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” a solid B. It was entertaining and well acted, but the story was forgettable.

Del Stone Jr. is a writer and former journalist.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” Starring Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint. Directed by David Yates. 146 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

The wizard in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” was a charming wussie.

The two wizards in 1981’s “Dragonslayer” were powerful servants of goodness.

The three principal wand-wavers in 2010’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” are mopey and brooding, which must violate some kind of law of Wizard Conduct and Coolness.

The bad witch in Oz was shrill, menacing. Her flying monkeys to this day haunt children’s dreams. “Dragonslayer” offered a formidable and sentient dragon, which sought to protect its offspring and Vermithrax bloodline, as the creature to defeat. By the way, the book on which the movie is based is very good. The evil wizard in “HP and the DH” is as comically fierce as his name, Voldemort. Picture a pale green being with black teeth and gill slits for nostrils.

I somewhat enjoyed the first 90 minutes of “HP and the DH.” The remaining eternity was dull, barring a semi-touching death scene toward the end. I probably would have liked the second-to-last of the HP movies a pinch more had I brought a wizard’s dictionary, thesaurus, and voice translator to the theater. The cockney accent of the red-headed wizard played by Rupert Grint couldn’t be processed by my admittedly inadequate brain. Note to producers of “HP and the DH, Part 2”: Use subtitles whenever red-head speaks.

It makes sense, I suppose, that the HP movies have devolved from wistful to bleak as the principal wizards grew from children to adolescents. But, it was a substantial error to cloak the film’s special effects in grays. Even daylight was shot as though it was perpetual twilight in Potter’s lands. The result was loss of crucial detail that makes battle scenes plausible and thrilling or chilling.

Superb special effects, I suspect, would have been available in glorious brightness had “HP and the DH” moviemakers shifted some of the budget from rendering the movie too long to making it compelling. See “Starship Troopers” for an example of the way sunlit daytime reinforces a film’s plot and believability.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll see “HP and the DH, Part 2” at a theater when it’s released later this year. I’m mildly interested in witnessing the outcome of Hermione’s, Harry’s, and Ron’s search for the horcruxes, medallions that give Voldemort his strength. I’m also mildly interested in seeing what havoc the Dark Lord causes now that he has the Elder wand.

Then again, who cares?

The first “HP and the DH” was disappointing and, I understand, the second was shot at the same time.

Del’s take

I’m not a “Harry Potter” fan, which is not to say I dislike “Harry Potter.” Though I haven’t read the books I did see the first four movies. I thought they were perfectly fine, even fun, entertainment.

I knew going into “Deathly Hallows Part 1” I’d have some catching up to do. Much had taken place in “Order of the Phoenix” and “Half-Blood Prince.” While I expected to wander the Hogwart world in confusion at first, I assumed the pieces would fill themselves in.

What I didn’t expect was to be bored.

In a nutshell, “Deathly Hallows” follows Harry, Hermoine and Ron as they cross the globe – or at least the UK – searching for the Horcruxes that will allow the evil Lord Voldemort to consolidate his hold over all things magic. They must destroy the Horcruxes, a feat they discover will be impossible without the Sword of Gryffindor. Along the way they scramble from subplot to subplot, escaping death by the hairs of Harry’s chinny-chin-chin.

People die, both good and evil. Battles rage. All things hang in the balance. And the movie ends with a cliffhanger – a perfectly adequate way of setting up the final chapter in the Potter saga, due in theaters this summer.

But in “Deathly Hallows” the magic vanishes. Not the wand-waving and incantations we’ve grown to know and like about the previous Potter movies. I’m talking about the innocence and the wonder of the Hogwarts universe, where children and evil trees and dragons co-exist, the world of possible anythings.

In “Deathly Hallows” wands become assault rifles and magic a banana clip. As Mladen noticed, the world is rendered in sad tones of gray. Relationships between characters take on the maroon shadows of a soap opera, all grim and unhappy and suspicious.

I agree with Mladen about Ron’s spoken lines – I could barely understand his mumbled Cockneyed accent. Hermoine’s perpetual foul mood diminished my sympathy for her. And Harry struck me as subtracted from the passion of events, as if he were preoccupied with an algabraic word problem.

I understand “Potter” author J.K. Rowling aged the characters from one book to the next, and darkened the plot in a similar fashion. Director Yates’ rendering of “Hallows” is true to the book. I don’t fault him for that.

But I think it’s a mistake to remove the one ingredient that made all the “Potter” movies so enjoyable – the fun. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” is no fun. It’s dark, moody and depressing – and way too long.

I might pass on Part 2, because as Mladen said, who cares?

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Speed Racer” Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon. 135 minutes. Rated PG.

Del’s take

I hate animated films about as much as I hate films that synthesize animation with live action. And unless it’s “Batman” I am sick to death of comic book- and cartoon-inspired movies.

But instead of throwing up my lunch I simply threw up my hands and went with the hackneyed, cliched and utterly simple-minded “Speed Racer,” a movie in want of an audience dumb enough to enjoy it.

Despite its lurid color palette and fairy-tale plot, “Speed Racer” isn’t something kids will digest with their Happy Meals. Rather, it’s suffused with pell-mell destruction and adult themes of corruption, blackmail and death, most of which will go over the kiddies’ heads. But Mommy and Daddy can expect a grinding case of road rage over the money wasted on this interstate highway pileup of a flick.

The story goes like this: Young Speed (Emil Hirsch) grows up idolizing his older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), who is killed in a horrific wreck and accused of racing dirty, thereby sullying the family name. When Speed follows in Rex’s footsteps he is wooed by a large racing conglomerate headed by Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam), who threatens destruction upon the Racer family when Speed turns down his offer. Meanwhile the Togokahn racing organization, facing a hostile takeover by Royalton Industries, vows to win a final race, The Crucible, a cross-country destructo-derby where dirty tricks are the norm. They enlist Speed as a driver. If Togokahn wins the price of their stock will rise, bankrupting Royalton and exposing their race-fixing, and salvage the Racer family name.

Sounds like any number of little-guy-vs.-big guy potboilers, but what puts “Speed Racer” behind the pack is its lack of focus, thuddingly dense dialogue, dismissal of simple physics and jarring cinematography.

Where to begin? The brain swoons at the prospect. Is this a children’s movie or what? Should adults take it seriously? Are the overblown CGI effects a kind of commentary on the illusory nature of reality or merely the product of overzealous computer geeks?

Ultimately “Speed Racer” comes across as a rendering of “The Matrix” on Ecstasy, which is no coincidence: It was created by the Wachowski brothers, who guided the perpetually dazed and confused Keanu Reeves through his role as Neo in the otherworldly “Matrix” trilogy.

But unlike the original “Matrix” and the immensely satisfying “V for Vendetta,” the Wachowskis’ efforts are less successful here.

“Speed Racer” does not earn the checkered flag.

Mladen’s take

Ignore the bona fide movie critics, and Del, who pan the latest Wachowski brother’s effort. Rent “Speed Racer.” Make sure your subwoofer is working.

The plot is difficult to discern and the storytelling as blurry as the race scenes but what’s the big deal? No film is perfect.

Flashing unearthly psychedelic colors make the pseudo-animated movie a vivid delight. “Speed Racer” juxtaposes the dark plot with the cheerfulness of bright colors to say that shiny surfaces often disguise the evil beneath.

Pleasing-to-the-eye Christina Ricci, as Trixie, plays the role of an indomitable but discreet instigator with effective lightheartedness.

The actors portraying Spridle and ChimChim – or however the hell their names are spelled – add humor to the movie.

And, no kidding, John Goodman as Pops looks exactly like Pops in the “Speed Racer” cartoons.

Racers employ all sorts of dirty tricks against each other to keep, or get, lucrative corporate sponsorships. Races are fixed by bookies, an idea that the film’s makers could have ripped off from watching BCS college football computer models at work.

The vehicles depicted in the movie are beautiful. Powered by interlocking dihedral fusion c60 bucky balls or some such thing, the machines handle turns, loops, dips, jumps, sand, ice, rain, hot, cold, sideswipes, rearenders, frontenders, rocket-propelled grenades, hypoxia and the common cold with ease. It’s a wonder the driver’s weren’t fitted with G suits. Yes, the powerful Mach 5 and, later, Mach 6, have the gadgets featured in the cartoons and even some of the sound effects. Remember the “sproing” of the doohickeys that make the Mach 5 jump?

I would have preferred that “Speed Racer” the movie use as a plot something other than big business corruption and one boy’s push to keep the spirit of racing alive. What nonsense. All sports at all levels are about making money.

In fact, a pure action movie with no moral would have been ideal.

So, here’s the story for “Speed Racer” the sequel. A CG race against the Mammoth Car with the Car Acrobatic Team as its escort will blow off peoples’ socks. A subplot involving Racer X and the evil scientist who created the armored and tracker Car With A Brain must be worked in somehow. Finally, it would be helpful if in the sequel Speed reacts to Trixie’s sexiness with a thrill rather than dour sentimentality.

“Speed Racer” is worth watching. I’m thinking of adding it to my meager DVD collection, though not until the price drops to $5, or less.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.