Way too much draggin’ and not nearly enough dragon, this overly serious talkathon is the perfect cure for insomnia, but little else. As a barometer of its cosmic dismalness, I saw it with a friend who hadn’t quite forgiven me for making him sit through Jason X. As soon as the film hit its jaw-droppingly stupid climax, he remarked, “We should have gone to Halloween Resurrection.” Truer words were never spoken. Yeah, I know, the trailer makes it look like Reign of Fire is going to be a lollapalooza of fire-breathing horrors — and when the big beasties hold sway, it pretty much is. Unfortunately, our scaly, anti-social friends give way all too often and all too long to pages and pages and pages of tedious chatter — most of it delivered with dull stoicism by Christian Bale, when it isn’t being delivered with ill-tempered overstatement by Matthew McConaughey. Very occasionally, Izabella Scorupco — the only person in post-dragon-apocalypse England with any sense of personal hygiene and an apparent selection of Revlon products — pops in to say something pseudo-philosophical that’s even less interesting. The film starts off well enough, with an opening cribbed from the sci-fi classic Quatermass and the Pit (a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth) where excavations in London awaken an ancient dragon. Just why and how the big fellow has been asleep all these years is never made clear (let alone plausible), but then neither is it made clear just where all the females this boy breeds with come from. Oh well, there’s so much Reign of Fire doesn’t explain that it’s just as well that it makes no sense right from the onset. And that wouldn’t matter so much if it didn’t oh-so-very-quickly become apparent that the film’s advertising promised a much more spectacular spectacle of massive dragon mayhem than it can deliver. Posters showing magnificent monsters raining down napalm-breath destruction on the House of Lords and Big Ben are, alas, just so much wishful thinking on the part of the illustrator. As dragon action goes, there’s more impressive good to be gotten out of Shrek. No sooner is the opening sequence over than the movie makes short shrift of the subsequent events. and propels us into one of those standard, grubby-brown post-apocalyptic worlds so beloved of producers working within a restrictive budget. In other words, it’s barren and depressing and dreary to such a degree that you start to think that the folks who were swallowed up in the first wave of destruction were luckier than the survivors, though nowhere near as lucky as the viewers who don’t see this movie. There is one clever aspect of the script, where the survivors are reduced to acting out scenes from Star Wars as a post-apocalypse version of storytelling. Otherwise, the film asks you to slog through reels of tedium to get to an admittedly pretty impressive climax. The climax — which involves firing an exploding missile down the gullet of the main dragon at absurdly close range — is fun, even if it doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that I want to know just what the life span of a dragon is supposed to be, since it’s apparently three months or under. I don’t know about the rest of you, but this strains my credulity and makes Reign of Fire’s tag scene an even cornier-looking variant on the ending of Richard Lester’s The Bed-Sitting Room than it otherwise would have. (And Lester’s film had the advantage of being an absurdist comedy where the ending was meant to be satirical!) Yeah, there’s 15 to 20 minutes of neat dragon business, but seeing it requires 80 minutes of fighting of sleep and trying to look at your watch in a dark theater.
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