Movies: Dragonball' rehashes familiar teen themes
Anime continues to make inroads onto U.S. movie screens
Martin Gavica/20th Century Fox
It's finally happened. With the well effectively dry of properties that existed during my formative years, Hollywood can now ruin the childhood memories of a new generation while I can blindly review an adaptation for its cinematic value and not question Hollywood's need to "tinker and fix" successful franchises.
On its own merit, "Dragonball Evolution" is a fairly entertaining martial arts adventure for the younger audiences and adults shouldn't find it too insufferable. And if it happens to be accurate to its anime source material, all the better for the franchise's legion of fans.
Goku (Justin Chatwin) knows he has incredible power and with his adopted grandfather's training, has become a skilled martial artist, even if his grandfather doesn't want him using those skills in actual combat.
So instead, Goku has to settle for an average teen life pining for the cute girl at school, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung, "Samurai Girl"), while doing his best to avoid the school bullies, who act like every school bully you've ever seen in a teen movie.
Chatwin makes for a bit of a prickly main hero as he seems an ill fit as the noble protagonist. Every so often you see glimpses that he'd be much more suited playing the wisecracking sidekick but then he reverts to the overly stiff, straight-laced protagonist.
For his birthday, Goku's grandfather gives him a Dragonball, a magical orb that joined with its six similar pieces will grant the user one wish. Seems pretty chump to just get one wish, but what do I know? Goku gets the Dragonball just in time as the evil King Piccolo (James Marsters, "Smallville") has begun his search to capture the Dragonballs for his own purpose, evil of course.
Goku teams up with Bulma ("Poseidon's" Emmy Rossum, who I can't shake the feeling is seriously slumming here), Yamcha (Joon Park, "Speed Racer") and his grandfather's instructor Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") to prevent Piccolo from capturing the Dragonballs and saving the world.
It helps give the film a sense of a quest moving forward to an actual adventure as opposed to an updated "Karate Kid," where a teenager uses martial arts to fight bullies. And the supporting characters are all more interesting than Goku and add some welcome new dynamics to the film.
Director James Wong ("Final Destination 3") tries to capture the frenetic sense of the anime with the action scenes but translating hyper-kinetic action from a cartoon to real life doesn't work if the special effects don't venture past what you see on a science-fiction TV show with a halfway decent budget. So instead of getting you into the fight scenes with very engaging choreography and fast-paced moves, it's more an effort trying to figure out what's going on — especially in the climactic battle between Goku and Piccolo.
The film ends in a perfect manner to set up the sequel, which would allow for even more of the series' characters to make an appearance and this first installment was actually entertaining enough that a sequel could work out the kinks to become a very solid franchise.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
PG; Adventure; 84 minutes
Director: James Wong
Cast: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters, Jamie Chung and Joon Park