Special effect

Dragon slaying with a lot of Heart and even a little soul

The entire cast manages to give interesting performances within the limitations of the narrow range of emotions their parts call for. Thewlis, who looks like Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson with a pageboy haircut, gnashes his teeth mercilessly. Ever since Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, swashbuckling bad guys have had to be both gifted at wielding a sword and insufferably petulant. It no longer suffices that bad guys be lazy and venal and ugly; now, they have to give the hero a run for his money, and Thewlis is convincing.

Dina Meyer, looking like the result of a cross-pollination of Helena Bonham Carter and Rene Russo, plays a spirited wench who plots to overthrow the king without becoming a shrill damsel-in-distress. Probably the best performance, though, comes from Pete Postlethwaite as a Sancho Panzalike monk who tags along to provide both comic relief and to serve as the film's moral compass. His presence assures that a young audience always keeps one eye on the gentle, politically correct proselytizing that Cohen and his screenwriter, Charles Edward Pogue, superimpose over the violent swordplay.

I hope Cohen wasn't trying to make a timeless epic on the order of The Once and Future King or even Morte D'Arthur, for if he was, he's failed miserably. What he has managed to come up with is a primer on how to nurture an intellectual fantasy life complete with a sense of honor and duty. And though DragonHeart is best aimed at children, he makes it enjoyable by adults as well. That alone may be the hat trick of the season--a film for kids that won't make adults wretch.

DragonHeart. Universal. Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Sean Connery. Written by Charles Edward Pogue. Directed by Rob Cohen. Now playing.

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