You can’t really say that Dean Cain, the star of “Dragon Fighter”, has fallen on hard times by appearing in this Made-for-TV film because, in truth, he never achieved much beyond the status of TV star. The recognition comes from his tour of duty on TV’s “Lois and Clark”, a dreadful and (unfathomably) feminine version of the Superman mythos. Beyond TV, Cain has done some movies, but nothing of note, even though I believe he has the talent to rise higher than his current station.
With “Dragon Fighter,” Cain plays Carver, a happy-go-lucky military Captain assigned to be the new chief of security at an ultra secret underground laboratory experimenting in cloning. The head scientist is Russian, and besides redefining the title Mad Scientist, has procured a new DNA sample for his team to work on. The result of their new cloning activity is a dragon — yes, the fire breathing variety ala “Reign of Fire”. No sooner does the dragon wake up does it eats two of the scientists! (I hate it when that happens.) Now trapped in the claustrophobic confines of their secret lab with one very ticked off lizard, the scientists, led by tough guy Carver, must fight their way out or become snacks!
“Dragon Fighter” began life as a Sci-Fi Channel original movie, and because of that perhaps its fate was sealed even before its premiere showing. The small TV budget is obvious, the cgi looks like something that could be done on a kid’s Macintosh, and the acting ranges from atrocious to hilarious to just silly. Star Dean Cain is probably the only thespian to leave “Dragon Fighter” (figuratively) alive, mostly because he has enough charisma and affability as a person that those personalities transfer over to his character. With better material, there’s no doubt Cain could do much better work, but “Dragon Fighter” is simply a paycheck and nothing more.
Besides sporting a terrible title (“Dragon Fighter”?) the film’s director, Direct-to-Video veteran Phillip Roth, has decided to employ the multiple split screen technique made popular by the TV show “24”. But whereas “24” used split screens as a necessary device in order to tell its multiple storylines, the technique comes across as superfluous in “Dragon Fighter.” More often than not, the split screens pop up to reveal different facial reactions of multiple people in the same room, leaving me to wonder, “Why?” Really, do I really care what a side character whose name I don’t even remember (and who is destined to die very soon) “feels” about every given situation?
Once the dragon is cloned and born (a total of 15 minutes of screen time, and about 4 hours according to movie time, making it the fastest cloning process in history!), the killings begin. The movie becomes a Slasher film, complete with idiot characters that bicker and split up at the first opportunity. (All the better to be killed, of course.)
As mentioned, Dean Cain survives “Dragon Fighter” with the least scars, although I’m sure his integrity as an actor took some lumps. Love interest Kristine Byers, on the other hand, doesn’t fare so well; her character is supposed to be a genetic scientist, but dresses, looks like, and acts like Daisy from TV’s “The Dukes of Hazard”. Because there is so little interest in the film prior to its showing, it was nearly impossible for me to find a full cast list. So I don’t know who the actor playing the lead Russian Mad Scientist is, and maybe it’s just as well since he shows very little promise. Robert DiTillio, as the facility’s Systems Analyst, does his best Hudson interpretation, but it’s not nearly enough to justify his silly presence.
There is one thing about “Dragon Fighter” that kept me interested. It’s this: Cain’s character, Carver, has been assigned to take over as chief of security at the facility, but everyone, including Head Mad Scientist Man, keeps saying to Carver that he is only an observer, and has no authority. Which, of course, is wrong, since the film mentions more than once that Carver is not there as just an observer (and thus powerless) but is in fact the new chief of security. Why, then, does Head Mad Scientist Man keep saying that Carver has no authority to do anything? Even better, why does Carver keep acting like he has no authority?
Hmm, I smell bad plotting…
Phillip J. Roth (director) / Phillip J. Roth (screenplay)
CAST: Dean Cain …. Carver
Kristine Byers … Meredith Winter
Robert DiTillio …. Kevin Korisch