When Judge Gordon Sullivan goes into a nasty sleep, he puts up a "Do Not Disturb" sign.
An Ancient Amulet. Viking Treasures. One Wild Adventure!
Only the most deluded Harry Potter fan will claim that J.K. Rowling is a particularly original writer. Ignoring the lawsuits charging plagiarism, it's easy to see the influence of at least a hundred years of British schoolboy narratives and fantasy novels on her franchise. It's not my intention to speak ill of Ms. Rowling, because despite the lack of originality she has several things going for her, including an ability to combine her influences effectively, and to make it look easy. It's that latter ability that has been the blessing and the curse for HP fans. On the positive side, it makes her novels effortlessly readable, able to appeal to a wide demographic. On the negative side its cause a whole host of imitators without Rowling's abilities to attempt work in the magical fantasy genre themselves. With the book series done and the film series winding up, other franchises are looking to fill in the gaps and line the pockets of movie makers, and at the bottom of the proverbial barrel are the makers of the Billy Owens films. They've decided to follow up their first film The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens with Billy Owens and the Secret of the Runes. It's a step up from the first entry, but this Harry Potter knockoff is still pretty painful.
The actual plot of Billy Owens and the Secret of the Runes is a bit odd. Billy (Dalton Mugridge, back from the first film) and his sidekicks accidently acquire an amulet of reversal, which causes one of their rune spells to send the teacher Thurgood ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper, They Live) into a nasty sleep. Only by retrieving an artifact can they defeat their enemies and revive Thurgood.
First, the good news: From everything I can tell (I haven't seen Mystical Adventures), Billy Owens and the Secrets of the Runes is a much stronger film than its predecessor. From reviews of the first film I expected total ineptitude, and instead was confronted with mere incompetence. The film has been upgraded from looking like a grade-school production to looking like a high-school one. Reviews of the first film complained loudly of the film's technical incompetence, and some of that has been mitigated here. Continuity is maintained, the plot generally makes a linear kind of sense, and the effects weren't quite laugh-out-loud bad. I watched the film with a magic and fantasy obsessed 10-year-old familiar with Harry Potter and his ilk. Although she didn't rave about the film, she didn't wander off bored, either. This seems to be an improvement over the laughably bad first flick.
Second, the bad news: just because the film is an improvement doesn't mean that it's worth watching. Now it's worse than only 99 percent instead of 99.9 percent of all other films that get distributed. The child actors (and that second word is being generous) are likeable enough but given nothing to do beyond spouting inane dialogue. At least they have the excuse of being underage. The adult actors (with the exception of Roddy Piper) are there simply to embarrass themselves with even worse exposition-heavy dialogue. Roddy Piper actually comes off the best in the cast, but he's mugging so heavily as Thurgood that it's only possible to appreciate him as a joke. The special effects have risen from Z-grade to D or C-grade, not quite laughable but still far from believable. Despite being fairly linear (the kids have to go to a cave, get some stuff, find the staff, etc), the plot doesn't have a lot of motivation or logic.
The release is also a step up in the technical department as well. It's a solid, if unremarkable, transfer from what looks like a digital tape source. I didn't notice any significant compression problems, but this is definitely a low-budget feature. The audio has both stereo and 5.1 surround options, neither of which impress. That's not the track's fault: the dialogue is obviously looped and the sound design doesn't seem to have been given much thought. Spanish subtitles are included. The sole extra is a trailer.
For those six people who enjoyed Mystical Adventures, Secret of the Runes is a small step up. For everyone else, do yourself the favor of avoiding this fantastically bad bit of magical silliness.
Billy Owens and all his friends (especially producer Roddy Piper) are guilty.
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