Dragonball: Evolution (2009)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Fantasy Adventure, Martial Arts  |   Release Date - Apr 10, 2009 (USA)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - Hong Kong , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Jeremy Wheeler

Just a month and a half after Hollywood butchered the Street Fighter brand, in comes another deathblow to an Asian import -- namely, the DragonBall series, this time with underwhelming, but digestible, results. Carrying over the comedic aspects of the series was a good first step in giving this adaptation life. Sadly, there isn't quite enough goofball charm to keep it afloat, nor does the picture deliver big enough blasts of action to keep audiences engaged. The same isn't quite true for the younger viewers, who will most likely enjoy the proceedings as they karate kick cars in the theater parking lot on the way home. One should give credit to the picture for being a PG-friendly kung fu flick, yet the accolades begin to slide quickly after that. Certainly the franchise's fans are sure to have a fit over the film just as they balked at the trailer's first glimpse of what the film business did to their beloved series. To its credit, Dragonball: Evolution is a breezy, lightly entertaining ride that just so happens to be intensely forgettable as soon as the credits close.

The story pertains to a group of magical orbs that were used to banish a powerful being, Lord Piccolo (Buffy's James Marsters), from Earth before he could lay ruin to it. Legend has it that whoever collects all seven Dragonballs will be granted one wish, so when Piccolo comes back 2,000 years later (no real explanation is given), the hunt is on for the remaining balls scattered around the globe. Enter Goku (Justin Chatwin), a talented teen martial artist, whose training with his grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) is close to putting him on the path to discovering the power within himself, but is cut short when Piccolo slays Gohan in his search for the Dragonballs. Little does the green-skinned villain know that the orb was already given to Goku, who sets out to find the famed Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) -- the master who trained his grandfather. Together, along with the help of the gun-wielding Bulma (Emmy Rossum), they travel the lengths of the Earth in a race that holds the key to the future of humankind.

Buried within the malaise that is most of the picture lies a misguided gem -- that being Chow Yun-Fat. While followers of the show will balk at how wrong the filmmakers got the goofy Roshi character, Chow probably brings more energy to the screen than anyone else in the cast. Sadly, his efforts fall flat, in no small part thanks to director James Wong's failing to maintain a comedic tone for the entire length of the picture. Something that is done right are the romantic exchanges between Chatwin and Jamie Chung. Their "outcast and socialite fall for each other" storyline is actually rather pleasing and ends up giving one stereotypical training scene a nice added touch. Overall, the pic starts out strong, with a fresh mix of humor and slo-mo action to keep things flowing. Ironically, it's when the film becomes a road movie that it starts limping to its uninspired ending. Add in a badly realized CG creature that leads to a finale filled with power blasts, and very little of the manic energy that powered the first act makes it through to the end.

Still, maybe this movie wasn't made for people whose job it is to critique every nook and cranny of its being. In that same way, it's possible that the picture isn't even catering to the series' fans, who have stayed with it through the wacky kiddie years (DragonBall) to the extreme action years (DragonBall Z) and beyond. Maybe Evolution was made for those kids who are karate-chopping bumpers on the way out to their parents' cars. In that case, enjoy, kiddies. Just know there's a whole lot more great stuff out there than just what Evolution has in store for you -- namely, the anime that it was based on.