7/18/07

R018 Reign of Fire

(2002, SciFi-Postapocalyptic/Horror, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy

Gentlemen, begin flexing!

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Filthy survivalists save what’s left of the world from fire-breathing dragons.

Summary:

The dragons are a metaphor for poor scholarship, resulting in the revocation of middle-school financial assistance.A school-uniformed youngster named Quinn breaks safety regulations left and right as he strolls into hardhat-only construction site and descends a shaft to find his civil engineer mother. His bad grades have lost him a scholarship, a source of consternation and potential financial strain to his mom. I was curious why a junior high kid would need a scholarship (last I heard pre-college education was free, even in England) but then a dragon bursts out of a previously undiscovered cavern to kill everyone but Quinn, effectively rendering the scholarship issue moot.

A grim radio and magazine montage chronicles the dragons’ ascent to the position of dominant species on the planet. Now among the last surviving vestiges of humanity, a grown-up Quinn (Christian Bale) has organized a band of grimy survivalists into a castle-dwelling colony somewhere in Northumberland. Against Quinn’s express orders, various colony members go harvesting at the castle’s tomato patch, and are roasted by a marauding dragon. Quinn drinks himself into a morose stupor, underscored by another dismal montage.

Next day, a contingent of American tanks arrive, led by the megalomaniacal Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and a lovely helicopter pilot Alex (Isabella Scorupco). Van Zan asks Quinn to let them in so they can resupply. Quinn doesn’t trust them, but eventually obliges.

All the new folk predictably draw a dragon. Alex’s skydiving helicopter squad attempts to bring it down with a lot of improbable aerial stunts, but fails. Quinn steps up at the last moment to lure it close to Van Zan, who kills it with a giant harpoon. The colonists’ celebration of the dragon’s demise is short-lived, as Van Zan declares that the dragon’s death cost him three men and thus cannot be considered a victory. (Or, words to that effect. What he actually says is, “You all disgust me.”) He accepts volunteers from the colonists to replace them, and then forcibly recruits several others. He savagely beats Quinn when the latter attempts to intervene.

From left to right: Crazy, Hot, and Sane.The company drives towards the dragons’ original lair in London, intending to wipe out the draconian scourge once and for all. (The laughable faux-science explanation for this is that they’ve determined there’s only one male dragon in the whole world, and if they kill it the rest of the species will die out.) The male dragon is much larger, fiercer, and more intelligent than its offspring; he fries the whole company rather easily, then backtracks to the castle and flames it as well. Quinn saves most of his colony by hiding them in the castle’s sprinkler-laced catacombs.

Van Zan and Alex are the company’s sole survivors; they return to the castle aboard the helicopter, dispirited at their failure. Their arrival triggers Quinn’s memories of childhood. “I know where he lives,” he declares (meaning the dragon, I assume), and the three of them embark via helicopter to London. They sneak into the shaft from the movie’s beginning (i.e., the male dragon’s lair), hoping to shoot it in the mouth with an incendiary arrow, thus exploding its presumably flammable head. After several setbacks and Van Zan’s self-sacrificing death, Quinn finally succeeds. She-dragons must have really short lifespans, because some months later, the dragon menace has ended.

Thoughts:

There's a patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell.If you had a choice as an actor, which would you rather be: competent or entertaining? I would have said competent every time, but after watching this steaming pile, I think I may change my mind in certain circumstances.

Of the two leads, Christian Bale is clearly the better actor. He is fiercely defiant but occasionally self-doubting. He feels anguish over the deaths of his friends but works hard with the survivors. Overall, he turns in an art house-worthy performance that is far more nuanced than this dreary, hopeless little B-movie deserves. Which is to say that watching him depressed me.

On the other hand, Matthew McConaughey shoots his performance so far over-the-top it’s a wonder he can even see the rest of the movie below him. He only knows one note and that note is “homicidal cracker,” like Foghorn Leghorn gone psycho. I snickered at him every time he appeared, affording me welcome relief from the rest of the movie’s bland, depressing weight. Thank goodness he was in this turkey, because I don’t think I could have stood to watch it without him.

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy do what they can to lighten the mood for us as well. Upon seeing the tunnel-digging machine’s odd shape, Mike calls it an “overlapping automatic swastika machine,” inspiring Kevin to sing a little jingle for it. When it becomes clear that no one knows how to stop the fire-breathing creatures, Mike suggests, “Why don’t you try ordinary table salt? That seems to work in most B-movies.” During Van Zan’s big entrance, the very first thing he does is flex for the colonists, inspiring Mike to say, “Got any chicks in there that want to scale Mount McConaughey?” For the most part, the movie’s a hopeless gray sludge with dragons, but Mike and Kevin (and McConaughey) salvage it enough to make it worth watching.