Remember when films used to be based on books, plays or even comic strips? Now, it would seem, any type of literacy is strictly unheard of, with the rise of a slew of movies based on games. Dungeons and Dragons derives from the role playing diversion that originated in 1974 and inspired more than 400 paperback novels set in its vaguely medieval, fantastical milieu. It centers around Ridley (Justin Whalin), a thief and commoner who, with his compatriot Snails (Marlon Wayans), helps the young Empress Savina (Thora Birch) thwart a palace revolution, headed by the evil Profion (Jeremy Irons). In their picaresque travels, they encounter Marina (Zoe McLellan), a young Mage (i.e., aristocrat); Elwood, a crusty dwarf (Lee Arenberg); Profion's scary henchman Damodar (Bruce Payne), and a sexy elf named Norda (Kristen Wilson).

Although the director of credit is Courtney Solomon, producer Joel Silver would seem to be the real auteur here, with the mix of in-your-face fx, screeching violence, thudding attempts at humor and overall loudness. Some of the visuals are nicely designed and have a Maxfield Parrish magical look to them (especially a spectacular dragon), but most of the special effects have that vapory digital look that has become very ho-hum by now. The movie was filmed on location in Prague and does benefit from that fabulously preserved city's baroque locales and picturesquely cobbled streets. One would like to be able to recommend this to the kids, but brutal scenes of Damodar being tortured by Profion and, in turn, having his savage way with a shrieking Marina, could cause some major bed-wetting incidents, not to mention possibly more lasting damage. And what passes here for comedy is more than embarrassing, what with Wayans behaving in a hysterically spooked-out, compulsively larcenous, screaming manner that sets the NAACP back some 60 years. He makes Stepin Fetchit and Buckwheat seem like viable role models, by comparison. After his abysmal turn hosting the MTV Awards in which he even mooned the camera in a failed attempt to get laughs, Wayans really needs to chill out and rethink things. Things aren't helped by Arenberg's grotesque mugging and observation, "All you elves look alike." Sweeping about in a bewildering array of medieval hostess gowns, Irons seems to campily enjoy himself, using a Karloff lisp and behaving like Colin Clive on crack. The rest of the actors fill out their roles adequately, but never emerge as anything more than callow cartoons.

--David Noh