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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Review: Millie Bobby Brown fights a dragon and a weak script in 'Damsel'

    Millie Bobby Brown isn't in distress in "Damsel," but the production around her sure is.

    Brown plays Elodie — pronounced "Melody," without the M — a commoner whose father (Ray Winstone) marries her off to a royal prince ("Love, Simon's" Nick Robinson) for the bounty it will ensure their family. What he doesn't know, and this isn't so much a spoiler as it is the plot of the movie, is the marriage offer is a sham, and Elodie is used as a sacrifice to a dragon with whom the royal family (including the evil queen, played by Robin Wright) has long been locked in a war.

    Talk about a tough beat.

    So Elodie is tossed into a cave where she must fend for herself against a very angry dragon, voiced by the unmistakably raspy Shohreh Aghdashloo. Along the way she comes across the remains of those who previously tried and failed to topple the dragon, harnessing their strength and her own resilience to free herself from the fate she's been dealt.

    It's a sort-of "Game of Thrones" for the 'tween set, and the script by "Fast X" screenwriter Dan Mazeau has the veneer of having pluck and attitude. (It's one of those faux fairy tales that early on announces itself, in as many words, as not a fairy tale.)

    But it's rarely convincing, either in a script sense or a visual sense, and its hastily constructed sets and shoddy CGI work barely passes muster. The dragon itself looks like a castoff of Smaug, from Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" films, and the terror that viewers are supposed to feel from this fire breather never registers.

    Elodie is meant to be a staunch warrior tapping into her inner primal beast — there are multiple shots of her tearing away pieces of her clothing, the metaphor of her transformation made literal — but it never looks like Brown is more than a few feet away from a cold can of La Croix and a cushioned chair. It's just not believable, and the artificial feel of the surroundings takes away from the credibility of the situation in which she supposedly finds herself. There's no grit or sense of danger in the production.

    Not every movie needs to be "The Revenant," but there you could feel DiCaprio locked in a battle with the elements, and himself, for his very spirit and soul. "Damsel" looks like it was shot on a green screen on a sound stage, which significantly lowers the stakes of what is unfolding.

    Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (2007's "28 Weeks Later") does push things further than expected a few times, and he receives a game performance from Brown, who seems willing to muddy up her "Stranger Things" image. But this is mostly safe, standard fare, a paint-by-numbers anti-princess fantasy that still fits neatly into the storybook mold. Even as introductory text, this story has been told before.

    --------------------

    'DAMSEL'

    Grade: C

    MPA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong creature violence, action and bloody images)

    Running time: 1:49

    How to watch: Streaming on Netflix

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