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MOVIE REVIEW

Dragonball Evolution

A quest with kicks and smirks

Justin Chatwin plays a high schooler who is out to save the world. Justin Chatwin plays a high schooler who is out to save the world. (Martin gavica/twentieth century fox)
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / April 11, 2009
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The giddy, anything-goes spirit of Japanese manga comics and Hong Kong martial arts flicks animates "Dragonball Evolution." Not enough to make it a good movie, mind you, but enough so you won't hate yourself if you sit through it with the kids.

You may, however, end up hating Justin Chatwin, the smirking 20-something pretty boy who stars as Goku. Goku is supposed to be a shy high-school kid who comes of age as a hero by story's end. If they'd cast someone more sympathetic and believably teenlike in the role - Jesse Eisenberg, say, or even Shia LaBeouf - then "Dragonball Evolution" might have been more than just tolerable.

Goku lives with his grandfather, a Mr. Miyagi type who teaches him mystical fighting skills and gives him one of the seven magical dragonballs as an 18th birthday present. When the evil alien Lord Piccolo returns, Grandpa ends up dead, and Goku must find the other six dragonballs to save the world. (It's complicated.)

He's joined on his quest by a punkette inventor (Emmy Rossum), a wisecracking Zen master (Chow Yun-Fat in a Hawaiian shirt), and the hot girl/martial arts expert from his high school (Jamie Chung). Piccolo - a scowling, bald giant - is played by James Marsters, from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," unrecognizable under the prosthetics.

It's all wacky, jumping from Grandpa's ranch to a "90210"-style high school, and from a futuristic, neon-lit, Tokyo-like city to a barren hellscape where the final battle takes place. Continuity and common sense are not exactly strong points; Ernie Hudson shows up briefly as the first 6-foot-tall, African-American Tibetan monk. But nearly all the actors seem to be having a good time, and the action moves so fast that you don't mind when something nuts happens.

I actually wished there had been more over-the-top moments, like the scene in which Goku battles a squad of demons and throws them into a lake of molten lava one at a time so he can use their corpses as stepping-stones to get to the dragonball on the other side.

DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION

Directed by James Wong

Written By: Ben Ramsey

Starring: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 84 minutes

Rating: PG (intense sequences of action/violence and brief mild language, very brief and very mild)