Dragonball: Evolution is based on a manga series (that's Japanese for "comic book") that was also turned into an anime series (that's Japanese for "cartoon") and is now a movie that was not screened for critics before it opened (that's Hollywood for "we're not very proud of it"). I doubt it's what fans of the story have been hoping for all these years, as they've endured one delay after another in getting a live-action version to the screen, but it's not aggressively bad. It's more like a dumb, energetic puppy.
It is the story of Goku (Justin Chatwin), a teenager being raised by his grandfather (Randall Duk Kim), who teaches him the ancient ways of martial arts and, from the looks of it, the Force. Goku has supernatural powers that he has not yet learned to harness, including the ability, not unlike a video-game character, to throw colorful balls of energy. Grandfather urges him not to fight unnecessarily, but Goku is always being bullied by his classmates. "They push me so far that I want to explode!" he says. You know how it is -- the handsome, nice, sociable kids always have so much trouble making friends.
For Goku's 18th birthday, Grandfather gives him a cool-looking billiard ball with four stars on it. It is a dragonball -- and you better believe there's an angry dragon looking for it! No, I kid. It's called a dragonball because, I don't know, "dragon" sounds cool, I guess. There are seven such balls scattered throughout the world. If you were to assemble them all, you'd be entitled to have "one perfect wish" granted. Trouble is, a long-imprisoned demon called Piccolo (James Marsters) has been let loose, and he's trying to collect the seven dragonballs himself so he can have his own nefarious wish granted.
It's your standard setup for adventure: good guy and bad guy racing against each other to find the thing that will allow them to either save or destroy the world. Piccolo is aided by Mai (Eriko Tamura), his bosomy henchperson who's a whiz with hand-to-hand combat. On his own side, Goku has half-crazy Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat), sassy young scientist Bulma (Emmy Rossum), love interest Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), and random highway thief Yamcha (Joon Park). Not all of these characters are useful to the story; you get the feeling some of them were included solely out of obligation. (I'm looking at you, Yamcha.)
Directed by X-Files and Final Destination veteran James Wong, from a screenplay by Ben Ramsey, Dragonball: Evolution benefits from its high energy and fast pace. Barely 75 minutes have passed when the closing credits start rolling, and while that means a lot of story elements have been absurdly compressed into a short space of time, it also means the film never wears out its welcome.
Oh, it's silly, sure. Bulma made a dragonball tracking device even though she thought her dragonball was the only one in the world. Justin Chatwin, who looks rather like an anime character (tall forehead, giant eyes), gets unintended laughs with some of his more intense lines of dialogue. The fight scenes frequently involve characters moving around in ways that can only be explained by poor editing, not agility. But it's all good-natured and harmless, and maybe really entertaining if you're a 10-year-old boy or have a thing for dragonballs.