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"Reign of Fire"

Directed by Rob Bowman.
Written by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg. 
Starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  7/17/02 


The guy that runs the Sunday night film group I hang out with here in San Francisco decided that “Reign of Fire” would be our choice this past weekend; why?  He loves fire-breathing dragon movies!

So, even though it looks like a dog in the trailers, we decided to check it out.  Should I have known from the trailers in front of “Reign of Fire” that I was in trouble?  Two words:  yes.  First, it was “Swimfan”, which might now lead in “most plot points given away in the preview”, taking the place of former leader “Enough” for 2002.  Wow, that looks bad.  Then, it was “Fear Dot Com”, starring Stephen Dorff, who starred in “Blade” but also appeared in “SFW (So Fucking What)”, one of the worst films ever made.  You will note that both of these films are being released in September, which once again confirms my theory that the worst films of the year are released in September.  Wow!  Then, it was “Shanghai Knights”, the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson follow-up to “Shanghai Noon.”  More and more, I ask myself:  how is Owen Wilson, co-writer of the Wes Anderson series of films (“Bottle Rocket”, “Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”), getting so many action roles?

But anyway, back to “Reign of Fire.”  Damn, this movie blows.  It is not a total atrocity, thanks to some hammy performances by the leads and the effects work, but it is still pretty bad.  It’s 2020, and the apocalypse has hit the earth in the form of about a million female dragons that are ravaging the planet.  The spawn of a male dragon that was awakened by some silly miners in London in 2002, these dragons have eradicated almost all of Earth’s population.  A band of survivors in England led by Quinn (Christian Bale, “American Psycho”) has been trying to survive on wits and the ability to hide out underground, but one day, a group of Americans led by a crazed commanding officer named Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) shows up to take shelter at Quinn’s hideout.  The reason?  Van Zan’s a dragon slayer, and over the course of a few run-ins with these dragons his forces have been depleted.  He needs Quinn and his band to help the fight in order to take out the male dragon and end this bullshit.The plot is actually worse than that, because the script by rookie writers Gregg Chabot and Kevin Peterka doesn’t really take time to explain things like...

  • the Americans crossed the Atlantic to get to London with, oh, a MILLION FUCKING DRAGONS flying through the air...

  • the Americans seem to be out of fuel but able to support ten tanks and a helicopter...

  • the male dragon is able to pick out Quinn’s hideout when there are a thousand other hideouts that need to be eradicated; this plot point brings on that smell emanating from “Jaws 4” when the shark seems to be able to follow one family halfway around the world...

  • ...why the film’s tagline is “Fight Fire with Fire”, when the good guys never once use fire (or for that matter, passion) to fight the dragons.

There are plenty of other atrocities, like the sheer lack of action in this action-adventure film, or the acting of third lead Izabella Scorupco (the good Bond girl from “Goldeneye”; man, talk about going from riches to rags), who is tough one minute, and pitifully afraid the next.  Thankfully, Bale is up to the task, and McConaughey shines as the over-the-top CO.  In fact, McConaughey—who must have known this film was a dog from the second he read the script—does good work as an intimidating tough guy in “Reign of Fire.”  With that bald dome and egregious goatee, he looks different than he does as that wuss from “The Wedding Planner”, and both he and Bale look like they worked out for a couple months before showing up on set because they are looking pretty cut here.  But, McConaughey especially looks like he is having some fun with the part, which makes a big difference in a bad film.

And, the special effects are pretty cool.  Any of the film’s scenes with dragons breathing fire are cool, and director Rob Bowman (“The X-Files” feature film) stages at least those scenes well enough.  But otherwise, “Reign of Fire” can wait until video, or worse, a long run on TNT when they buy the rights to it in a year or two.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09