"Final Destination" director James Wong juggles more balls than he can manage in "Dragonball Evolution," an uninspired, apocalyptic, martial arts spectacle with Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, Chow Yun-Fat, and Ernie Hudson intended for teenagers. Everything that can go wrong for Wong does in this half-baked, live-action makeover of Akira Toriyama's acclaimed Japanese manga series. Although "Love and a Bullet" scenarist Ben Ramsey and Wong treat the material with alarming reverence, this contrived epic amounts to little more than a predictable, paint-by-the-numbers, sci-fi fantasy. Neither the lackluster special effects-'including some obvious CGI landscapes--nor the hero's hidden past are memorable bolster this hackneyed yarn. Reportedly, Asian "Dragonball" purists, where the film came out a year ago, have been clamoring about the movie's devastating departures from the source material.
Indeed, the adolescent fan base that made the original "Dragonball" graphic novel series into a stunning sensation with sales of over 150 million volumes in 1984 are more likely to shun this shoddy saga than unsuspecting filmgoers like yours truly. I'll give any movie a shot, but "Dragonball Evolution" was a real stinker. Incredibly, Hong Kong "Kung Fu Hustle" stardirector Stephen Chow produced this PG-rated, hyperbolic hokum in Mexico with 26-year old Justin Chatwin of "The Invisible" impersonating a high school student who gets tongue-tied around girls. Talking about masquerades, our hero's alien nemesis, Lord Piccolo, looks like a Halloween goblin who wants to destroy the Earth after having been locked up for 2000 years.
Wong and Ramsey pack some pertinent exposition in their pre-titles prologue. They provide a brief montage about a loyal order of monks who imprisoned the diabolical Piccolo (James Marsters of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and a sadistic god named Oozaru after an ancient battle. Naturally, nobody remembers this fateful clash of the titans. When the story resumes some 2,000 years later, it takes place on the 18th birthday of Goku (Justin Chatwin) during one of his daily martial-arts training rituals. Goku's aged but aggressive grandfather, Gohan (Randall Duk Kim of "Memoirs of a Geisha"), never gives the orphan a break as he teaches him kung fu. At Gohan's quasi-ranch-temple-Karate dojo, they leap and lung at each other when they aren't teetering precariously on parallel lengths of tight rope. Gohan imparts wisdom to Goku that sounds suspiciously like something Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker about the Force.
Celebrating Goku's coming-of-age, Gohan gives the lad a glittering orb with four stars. He regales Goku with the history of the heirloom and its supernatural potential. This dragonball can fulfill grandiose wishes when united with six other dragonballs. Goku concerns himself more with his grandfather's advice about quelling the butterflies in his stomach when he tries to talk to girl rather than sparkling spheres. Gohan advises Goku simply to be himself. At high school when the bullies flatten his bike, we secretly want Goku to flatten them with his kung-fu. Our hero refuses to wield his fists of fury against them because Gohan wouldn't approve of such behavior.
Meanwhile, Goku has been honing his ability to conjure up energy that enables him to move physical objects through the air. At Unitech High, he proves his ability to conjuring skills when he opens a jammed book locker for his soon-to-be sweetheart, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung of TV's "Samurai Girl"), and she invites him to her party. About this time, the treacherous Lord Piccolo and his shape-sifting sidekick, Mai (Eriko Tamura of NBC-TV's "Heroes"), embark on their quest to gather the seven dragonballs, eliminate Gohan, and rule the world. As he lays dying in Goku's arms, Gohan advises his grandson to seek the aid of Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat of "The Killer") to help him gather the seven balls before a solar eclipse takes place.
"Dragonball Evolution" becomes a pilgrimage like "The Wizard of Oz" as other oddballs join Goku. While he is fumbling through the rubble of his grandfather's house, Goku comes face-t0-face with a well armed babe, Bulma (Emmy Rossum of "Poseidon") toting a big gun. Not only does she possess a Ph.D., but she also has designed a GPS tracking device to locate the dragonballs. Dressed in a black, skin-tight cat-suit, Bulma totes a "Transformers" type gadget that fits in the palm of her hand. When she hurls it to the ground, however, it turns into a motorcycle. Picking up Roshi, Bulma and Goku bike off into the desert and promptly crash into a huge pit. The fourth member of this unlikely quartet, Yamcha (Joon Park of "Speed Racer"), hauls them out of the hole for a piece of the action. Roshi leads our heroes to visit another master, Sifu Norris (Ernie Hudson of "Ghostbusters" with white eyebrows), at a Tibetan-style monastery who assures Roshi that his plan to save the Earth has little chance of success.
Chow steals the show with his unshaven, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing martial-arts mystic who is obsessed with bikini magazines. As Goku's grandfather, Randall Duk Kim resembles Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid" franchise. Again, James Marsters looks like he got shanghaied while knocking on doors at Halloween.
Wong and Russell keep our heroic quartet up to their eyeballs in havoc. Chi Chi encounters the shape-shifting Mai who tangles with her long enough in a kung fu tournament to slash her upper arm for a vial of blood so they can have a repeat match in a doppelgänger catfight. Eventually, our heroic entourage has to brave a steaming volcano to collect another dragonball (can we say "Lord of the Rings") and Goku waltzes across a lake of burning lava on the corpses of intergalactic werewolves.
Typically, audiences are supposed to align themselves vicariously with the hero. The hint that this movie is going to be abysmal occurs in the first quarter hour when our protagonist's martial arts mentor warns him: "Prepare to eat dirt." "Dragonball Evolution" qualifies as a nothing but dirt.
Review by zardoz-13 from the Internet Movie Database.