Producers: Gordon McGhie, Troy Arthur Taylor, Michelle O’Reilly, Ziaoming Yao, Luo Yang, Tang Ziongxing and Simon Li   Director: Sean Patrick O’Reilly   Screenplay: Jim Kammerud, Brian Smith and Sean Patrick O’Reilly   Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kiefer O’Reilly, Jayne Eastwood, Byron Mann, Ron Perlman, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Christopher Plummer, King Lau, Osric Chau and Zeus Mendoza   Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Grade: D

How can one not love a movie in which the villain taunts the heroes with the words, “You are but a grain of rice on my plate”?

You can’t help but laugh at such a line, and that’s only one of many gems in this animated adaptation of John Wilson’s 2018 YA novel “The Ruined City,” which was advertised as Part 1 of series called “The Golden Mask” that apparently never continued.  It’s a good bet that the movie will be a one-off, too.

The hero of the piece, if you can call him that, is teenager Charlie (voiced by Kiefer O’Reilly), a streetwise orphan living in some American city.  He’s a smart-alecky Artful Dodger sort, a pickpocket supposedly working for nasty boss Rizzo (Christopher Plummer, using a raspy voice in his last screen role) but not bringing in his quota.  Rizzo says Charlie owes him tens of thousands of dollars for raising him.

In medieval China, the city of Sanxingdui, ruled by benevolent King Yufu (King Lau) is under attack by a warlord named Kunyi (Ron Perlman), who covets the Jade Blade, with which he can conquer the world.  But the city is defended by the five heroes of the golden mask, who have been chosen by that artifact and endowed with special powers by wearing one.  Their leader is gruff Jiahao (Byron Mann), with telekinetic ability; the others are his daughter Li (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who unleashes energy arrows with her bow; Aesop (Patton Oswalt), a likable lug with a mighty hammer; Zhu (Osric Chau), who can turn into the various animals of the zodiac; and Zuma (Zeus Mendoza), whose weapons are magical balls.

When Jiahao is killed in Kunyi’s latest assault, Yufu charges Li to locate his chosen successor.  Grabbing the mask, she passes through a portal that lands her in America, where the mask fastens on Charlie, who’s initially reluctant but reckons that perhaps the gold in the masks can provide the riches he needs to pay off Rizzo.  So he allows himself to be transported to Sanxingdui, only so that he can steal the masks.

What follows is the predictable arc of Charlie gradually warming to his new colleagues—as well as Helen (Jayne Eastwood), who acts as a mother to them all—and accepting them as his new family (with special affection for Li, of course).  The process involves lots of action sequences, especially after Kunyi kidnaps Helen and the crew must go off on an odyssey to rescue her, a journey that requires them to face off against various monsters Kunyi releases and a bunch of slithery spirits called hungry ghosts.  It all might come off better if the animation from Canada-based Arcana Studio (this is a Chinese-Canadian co-production) weren’t so clunky, Jason Cooper’s editing didn’t let things go limp in the action sequences, and the script didn’t resort so often to annoyingly “clever” one-liners.

Most of those are spouted by Charlie, who’s actually a pretty obnoxious brat with a quick, smarmy resort to virtually anything anybody says to him.  His cheerily selfish attitude pretty much destroys whatever good will the picture wants to create toward him in the audience.  And heaven help the parents whose kids watch “Heroes of the Golden Mask” and then want to imitate him.

Voicework is passable, though young O’Reilly’s snidely know-it-all attitude is pretty insufferable, and his turn to sincerity not much better.  The blowsy score credited to producer Gordon McGhie, Eric Xin Hu and George Streicher doesn’t improve things.

To sum up, this is a bargain-basement kids’ animated adventure inferior to stuff one can find on cable networks like Disney or Nickelodeon, let alone the streaming services.