Yea, verily, the Sword and Sorcery genre doth toe the line of self-parody more than most. Subtract the passion of Peter Jackson, or the bristly machismo of John Milius (Conan the Barbarian) from the equation, and you're left with a bunch of hairy dudes rambling through the forest, talking about Kobolds.

Eragon, the first in a projected trilogy of kid-friendly fantasy epics, can barely muster enough energy to work on a cheese level. Debuting director/effects vet Stefen Fangmeier manages to pull off a few decent visual coups, particularly with a nicely animated blue-eyed dragon, but without the rich conceptual texture of the LOTR series (or, hell, even the goofy exuberance of The Beastmaster) to draw on, what remains is a load of generic mush perhaps best served as a piece of bitchin' '70s van art.

The problems may stem largely from the source material. Props are due to author Christopher Paolini for writing a bestseller while still in his teens, but it's difficult not to note that his narrative borrows, to put it charitably, maybe just a smidgen from Star Wars: Poncey, orphaned farm boy discovers an object of great power (here, a telepathic dragon voiced by Rachel Weisz); gets trained in ancient arts by a wizened sorcerer (Jeremy Irons); is joined by a brooding, wisecracking mercenary; goes on mission to free a captured princess. Oh, and there's also an evil emperor (John Malkovich, phoning it in), with a heavy-breathing, magic-wielding henchman (Robert Carlyle, doing awful things with his lips). The pros in the cast do what they can to give some juice to the old saws about power within and believing in yourself (when it comes right down to it, nobody can purr out a line about the properties of elf blood quite like Jeremy Irons), but they ultimately can't transcend the threadbare nature of the plot. And, lo, the kids at the screening were fidgeting. Alack.