April 13, 2009 / 4:58 AM / 10 years ago

"Dragonball Evolution" a backward step

Director James Wong poses with cast members Justin Chatwin of Canada, Emmy Rossum of the U.S., South Korean artiste Park Joon-hyung, Jamie Chung of the U.S. and Hong Kong-born actor Chow Yun-Fat (L-R) during a news conference for the movie "Dragonball Evolution" in Taipei February 17, 2009. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Another Japanese manga bites the dust with its cinematic adaptation: in this case, the “Dragonball Evolution” series, which has spawned a hugely lucrative worldwide cottage industry that has lasted a quarter-century.

That success is likely to come to a screeching halt with this big-screen version, which will displease its fans and prove utterly baffling to the uninitiated. The film opened Friday without press screenings, landing the No. 8 spot with estimated three-day sales of just $4.65 million. Overseas prospects are brighter, with sales to date of about $37 million.

A narration during the opening credits attempts to provide some background information about an ancient battle for Earth waged by the evil Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) — why they named the biggest badass in the universe after a tiny flute is a mystery. But the real story line has to do with Goku (Justin Chatwin), an 18-year-old who is given a mystical dragonball by his grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim). Said dragonball, when matched up with the six others in existence, has the power to grant its holder any wish.

Lord Piccolo is highly interested in this ability, of course, and while Goku is distracted beating up some bullies (he employs a martial arts style best described as “extreme dodging”) and wooing a comely fellow student (Jamie Chung), he drops a house on the old man.

Just before dying, Gohan instructs Goku to find Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) to help him procure the remaining dragonballs before the coming solar eclipse — Zzzzzzzzz — sorry about that; where was I? Oh, yes. So Goku sets out on his adventure, joining forces before the inevitable final showdown not only with Master Roshi, who turns out to be a Hawaiian shirt-wearing letch, but also with the sexy Bulma (Emmy Rossum) and the thieving Yamcha (Joon Park).

Completely lacking in visual, narrative or stylistic coherence, the film also suffers from cheap-looking visual effects and poorly staged and edited action sequences that will not exactly please the fanboys. Not helping matters is the problematic casting. Rossum comes across about as tough as Hannah Montana; Chatwin is a decade too old for his role; Marsters, so compelling in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” is here vocally and visually unrecognizable; and Chow, though he seems to be enjoying himself, clearly is slumming.

A postcredits sequence sets up the groundwork for a sequel, but that is wishful thinking on the part of the producers.

Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters

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