Arthur (Hunter Allan) is a twelve year old fantasy fan who loves playing Elixir Quest, a card-based role-playing game, alongside gutsy gal pal Natalie (Abigail Victor) and nerdy sidekick Tim (Ryan Bradley Norris), but their fun is constantly disrupted by a gang of bullies led by the obnoxious Larry Metz (Jordan Reynolds). Unfortunately, his mother happens to be the stern and vindictive Vice-Principal Metz (Wendy Malick) at their local school. She puts further pressure on Arthur’s long-suffering mother, Laura (Lea Thompson) who is locked in a custody battle with her ex-husband and his daffy policewoman girlfriend Officer Annie (Amy Pietz). One day while playing in the sewers, Arthur encounters a magical troll named Bart (Richard Sellers) who reveals that the boy unwittingly holds the secret to defeating an ancient dragon. Enlisting the reluctant aid of Elixir Quest creator Shane Barker (Eric Lutes), Arthur and his friends discover their beloved game is actually real and that the evil dragon king Darksmoke lurks somewhere in the human realm, in mortal form.
More Wizards of Waverly Place than Harry Potter, Adventures of a Teenage Dragonslayer (whose hero is in actual fact conspicuously on the cusp of adolescence) attempts a would-be hip spin on fantasy adventure clichés. Scripter Jamie Nash, writer-director of the horror comedies Two Front Teeth (2006) and ParaAbnormal (2009) and frequent collaborator with low-budget genre hand Eduardo Sanchez of The Blair Witch Project (1999) infamy, peppers the film with pop culture quips referencing everything from Marvel Comics and Disney Movies to the Olsen Twins and, yup, Harry Potter. But the underlining sarcasm coupled with crass ideas involving breakdancing trolls, rampant fart and vomit gags dilute whatever magic the premise might have had.
This straight-to-video family film marks a reunion for Lea Thompson, Eric Lutes and Amy Pietz who starred together in the Nineties sitcom Caroline in the City. No surprise really, given director Andrew Lauer also co-starred in this long-forgotten show. Making his feature film debut after a handful of documentary shorts, Lauer’s tepid direction does the cramped, convoluted plot no favours although the climax proves noticeably livelier than much of the meandering non-action that precedes it. While the grownups pitch their performances way over the top (sitcom regular Wendy Malick being the worst offender), the kids do a fair job of keeping things tolerable with young Abigail Victor gently endearing as the plucky Natalie.
A handful of winningly witty moments keep things watchable even during the duller patches, including Natalie amusingly describing how she learned to hot wire a car in the girl scouts, Arthur’s claim that “stop signs don’t count in a car chase”, Laura wondering whether her son’s propensity for tall tales means he might go into politics (To which Arthur replies: “I will neither confirm nor deny that”), and the moment one character hiding from the dragon gets a phone call asking about their VISA bill. Plus it is hard not to laugh when the script stoops to a silly Broadway musical reference when someone says “Annie, get your gun.”
The CGI dragon is actually pretty good for what it is but the makeup on the annoyingly squeaky-voiced Bart the Troll is woefully substandard and more like a homemade Halloween costume.