Reign Of Fire

2002, Movie, PG-13, 105 mins


From the gratuitously misleading posters suggesting present-day aerial combat to the sidestepped questions at the story's very core, this ambitious and often engrossing post-apocalyptic drama comes so close to being good that it hurts. Lurching from admirably frank, multifaceted depictions of human physical and psychological survival to scenes so hokey they're almost surreal, the movie is like a thoroughbred horse without a jockey — a thing of beauty running nowhere. London, the present. Twelve-year-old Quinn (Ben Thornton) visits his mum (Alice Krige), a project engineer, at her underground railway tunnel site. There, workers awaken a dragon that's evidently been in suspended animation since the days of the dinosaurs, which dragons drove to extinction. Asleep for 60 million years? Really? This question of dragon history becomes just the first example of the movie's vague and sloppy conception of the scaly creatures, and with few parameters regarding dragon habits, needs and vulnerabilities, nothing else in the plot can make much sense. Issues of what they eat and when they attack all seem to be made up as the film goes along, and while devastating modern weapons and scientific expertise can't stop the fast-breeding plague in the present, primitive weapons do just fine twenty years later, when the bulk of the film takes place. It's now 2020, Earth is charred to ruins and a grown-up Quinn (Christian Bale) leads a stoic enclave holed up in a fortified old castle in Northumberland, England. Just as the castle's medieval owners had a self-contained society able to feed and clothe itself, so, too, does this huddled band of humans. Exquisite small touches illuminate the day-to-day details of survival, right down to the need to entertain and inspire their children. (In a brilliant conceit, the grown-ups put on simple play versions of STAR WARS and THE LION KING.) The tone changes abruptly when an American military volunteer, Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), arrives with his troops, which includes a fetching helicopter pilot (Izabella Scorupco, who starts with a credible American accent then fights a losing battle to keep it — why not just reloop the Polish/Swedish-accented parts?). As played by an out-of-his-league McConaughey, Van Zan is half Colonel Kurtz, half General Patton, an over-the-top comic-book character among otherwise normal, naturalistic people. Some great things can found in this fluidly kinetic film, well-directed by X-Files series and movie veteran Rob Bowman, including no-nonsense dialogue, epic photography and a terrific score. It's too bad the story is so sloppy and stupid. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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