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Dustin Putman

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Dragonball: Evolution  (2009)
Directed by James Wong.
Cast: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, James Marsters, Joon Park, Eriko, Randall Duk Kim, Ernie Hudson, Texas Battle, Megumi Seki, Ian Whyte, Richard Blake, Jon Valera.
2009 – 84 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for action violence and brief mild language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 10, 2009.
A few times each year, a movie comes along that makes the viewer just want to shake his or her head in disbelief at the ineptitude that has found its way to the screen. To be a fly on the Styrofoam boulders used during the shooting of "Dragonball: Evolution" must have been quite the juicy entertainment. After all, it would be impossible to go through filming and not question the quality of the script, sets, acting, cinematography and directing. Right? James Wong, helmer of 2000's eerie, stylish "Final Destination" and 2006's "Final Destination 3," would be wise to continue on with that horror series for as long as he's a working filmmaker, because his two segues from the genre—2001's putrid "The One" and now this—have been so lacking in discernible talent that it is as if Uwe Boll made them and simply chose "James Wong" as his professional pseudonym.

Based on the Japanese manga by Akira Toriyama, "Dragonball: Evolution" is convoluted, but easy to follow most of the time. That doesn't mean that any of it makes sense, though. For two thousand years, ancient alien warlord Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) has been mystically imprisoned, his plans to destroy the earth thwarted by the magic spell he has been under. When Piccolo escapes, he sets out with henchwoman Mai (Eriko) to track down seven orbs known as dragonballs and, at the arrival of the impending solar eclipse, use them for evil. When his beloved grandfather (Randall Duk Kim) is murdered during Piccolo's search for one of the balls, 18-year-old Goku (Justin Chatwin), himself trained in martial arts and telekinesis, sets out with an escalating number of sidekicks—Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat), Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), Bulma (Emmy Rossum), and Yamcha (Yoon Park)—to find them first. United as one, the seven dragonballs have the power to grant one wish—just enough to save humankind as we know it.

"Dragonball: Evolution" is amazing in its badness, an action-fantasy hodgepodge of cringe-inducing writing (credited to Ben Ramsey), flat and dreary camerawork, stick-drawn characters, laughable sets that look about as realistic as the ones used in Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space," cheaper-than-cheap greenscreen work, and CGI so undistinguished and amateurish that it wouldn't have passed muster in 1989. The narrative jumps from one digitally uglified location to the next without any sense of space, scope or travel. Romantic subplots, particularly the one between Bulma and Yamcha, seem awkwardly forced into the proceedings without any bother for reason or substance. Action set-pieces, like some business with a river of flowing lava, are senseless, and fight choreography, pitting man against man and man against beast, is edited with the cohesion of a blindfolded child cutting his or her own hair. There is no creativity in what director James Wong has rustled up, nor is there any energy or ambition. The budget, whatever it might have been, seems roughly as low as that of a 1970s "Land of the Lost" episode.

Justin Chatwin, he of 2005's "War of the Worlds" and 2007's "The Invisible," and Emmy Rossum, she of 2004's "The Phantom of the Opera" and 2006's "Poseidon," are bright, attractive, promising young actors. At this stage, they probably could have their pick of any number of roles. To have agreed to lend their services to subpar nonsense like "Dragonball: Evolution" suggests they not only sold their souls to the devil, but their brains, too. As Goku, Chatwin gets the lead role and at least a motive behind his actions (he wants vengeance for his grandpa's death). What he doesn't get is good dialogue or direction, consequently embarrassing himself with unconvincing line deliveries and vein-popping facial expressions of seeming constipation.

As for Rossum, her character of Bulma is strictly emptiness personified, lacking the fundamental traits and personality of someone the viewer might want to start and get to know. Instead, Bulma goes through the paces of matter-of-fact tech speak and foggy intentions; does she want the dragonballs to genuinely help in stopping the end of the world, or is she just interested in getting power and fame out of her intended wish? Who knows, and who cares? In other central parts (all of them useless), Jamie Chung (2007's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry") is cute and little else as Goku's classmate crush Chi Chi; James Marsters (2007's "P.S. I Love You") is overshadowed by poor alien prosthetics that turn him into an inebriated jester rather than a threatening heavy as the villainous Lord Piccolo; and Chow Yun-Fat (2007's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") jumps around with alternating pep and despair whilst wearing a shirt that looks like a tacky Hawaiian tablecloth as Master Roshi.

The very early scenes between Goku and his grandfather, and those depicting what an outcast he is at school, are passable, and the only reason "Dragonball: Evolution" has been saved from the lowest possible rating. From that point on, the film goes down, down, down, finishing with a climax where fake rocks fall and bounce around the confused actors while the camera shakes this way and that. The movie, besides being a technical disaster, is an emotional glacier that makes one feel nothing but bad for those on both sides of the camera. Surely, this abysmal finished product was not what anyone had in mind when the project was initially tackled. What went wrong on its way to reshoots, and then to a distaff, poorly marketed theatrical release? Apparently, just about everything.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman