Eleven-year old boys may very well enjoy “Dragonball: Evolution,” but anyone outside that target demographic might be well advised to skip it.
The fantasy flick is based on a Japanese comic book that’s been popular since it first appeared in 1998. It’s about a high school kid named Goku (Justin Chatwin), whose grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) has taught him both martial arts and peaceful practice. On his eighteenth birthday Gohan also presents him with one of seven so-called dragonballs. The orbs were instrumental in the defeat, thousands of years ago, of the alien invader Piccolo (James Marsters) and his gruesome beast-aide Oozaru (Ian Whyte), who were banished to underground imprisonment after the battle for earth was won.
Somehow, however, Piccolo has been released, and he and svelte kick-ass Mai (Eriko) are on the trail of the seven balls, which when brought together will not only release Oozaru again but grant the controller anything he wishes. Soon Goku is forced to avenge his grandfather’s death at Piccolo’s hands and undertake a quest to find the seven orbs before the villain does. Along the way he assembles a tram of helpers: the beauteous but bristly Bulma (Emmy Rossum), cute and kung-fu savvy classmate Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), good-hearted erstwhile crook Yamcha (Joon Park), and—most importantly—Masyer Roshi (Chow Yun-fat), who trained Gohan and will prepare Goku for his confrontation with Piccolo.
The outrageous character names should be a clue that “Dragonball: Evolution” isn’t exactly the most serious of movies. In fact, it’s positively goofy. But that’s a strength in this case. Too many of these kinds of pictures—many based on video games, for instance—are dour, grim affairs, suffused with a ridiculous sense of self-importance. This one, on the other hand, is agreeably cartoonish—brainless, maybe, but self-aware.
And it has other virtues. For one thing, it’s short—barely 75 minutes. For another, it’s got a likable cast. Chatwin has a certain boyish innocence about him, and takes humiliation with a smile, and the rest of his crew are pleasant enough, too. Chow has an especially good time, jazzing up things with a modified “Drunken Master” routine and getting off some nice barbs without going overboard with the shtick.
On the other hand, there’s not much that’s special here, and the villains are boring (with the usually reliable Marsters–both Spike and Brainiac—encased in a blue facemask that makes it pretty much impossible for him to act at all. Worse, the final reel is pretty much incomprehensible; readers of the comics may be able to understand what’s going on, but the rest of us can be expected to have some trouble. The effects aren’t top-grade, either.
Still, those eleven-year old boys might be directed here while their sisters stand in line for “Hannah Montana.” As for the parents, well, neither option is particularly inviting.