As cheap and over-acted as "Xena: Warrior Princess," but without the ironic, self-aware charm and campy sense of humor, "Dungeons and Dragons" is the fantasy genre at its worst and will likely disgruntle even the most die-hard role-playing wonks -- even those that go in with bargain basement expectations.
Vaguely inspired by the medievalish role-playing game of the same name, the movie is unoriginal pap about a divided empire in which a megalomaniacal ogre (Jeremy Irons) is trying to overthrow a noble young empress (Thora Birch) with idealistic designs for democracy.
The ogre wants to acquire a scepter with what looks like a Christmas ornament at its center because the rod is apparently a dragon remote control and "with the dragon army at my command, I can crush the empress!"
Irons runs around various castles, thundering these omens of impending doom at the top of his lungs and chewing scenery with such glee he can hardly keep from laughing. (A fine actor with a good amount of integrity, he obviously took the part just to have a little fun.)
But the baddie doesn't do any of the work himself. For that he has a seething, sneering, whispering, bald henchman (Bruce Payne) who stomps around in a cape with sinister leather spire shoulder pads and wears blue lipstick that looks like he brushed his teeth but forgot to rinse. (Like the rest of the costumes in "D&D," his looks like it came from the cheapest Halloween shop on Hollywood Blvd.)
Meanwhile a completely out-of-place pair of peasants and professional thieves (Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans) -- who talk and act like wise-cracking reject hipsters from a WB teen show while everyone else speaks in Lit class proto-prose -- stumble into a swashbuckling adventure to save the empire. After they're caught burglarizing a school for magic -- by a pretty apprentice (Zoe McLellan) who becomes their sassy damsel in distress -- they hook up with a Norse-looking, loud-mouthed dwarf (Lee Arenberg) and a sexy, emotionless elf (Kristen Wilson) in boob-shaped armor. Together the band of heroes tries to find the scepter before the bald guy and his army do.
Greenhorn director Courtney Solomon (who bought the rights to "D&D" at age 20 in 1990) does a half-assed job. He adheres religiously to the Simplistic Fantasy Film playbook, letting logical chasms and gross continuity errors slip by and pretty much leaves his actors to their own devices -- the practical upshot of which is really, really bad acting.
Pretty boy Whalin swaggers and grins like a Gap model desperately trying to channel Han Solo. Wayans does a squealing ghetto schtick ("Daaaaamn, man!"), as if he's in his own movie called "A Compton Homeboy in King Arthur's Court." The promise showed by Thora Birch in "American Beauty" is completely absent from her vacant, weightless performance as the empress. She's even more out of her element here than Christina Ricci was in "Sleepy Hollow."
Only Irons and Richard O'Brien ("Rocky Horror," "Dark City," "Ever After"), who hams his way through a role as a tyrannical king of thieves, are entertaining at all -- mostly because they're the only two people on screen who acknowledge the hopelessly ludicrous nature of this movie and just run with it.
Forced to say something nice about "D&D," I'd give the effects guys credit for some pretty cool dragon sequences, even if it's clear from the quality of the CG imagery that they had a limited budget to work with.
But then, nobody ever sees the effects guys and the dragons they crated don't have to find work again. I can't imagine how any of the actors in this movie can live with the shame.