DUNGEONS & DRAGONS —* 1/2 — Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Payne, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg; rated PG-13 (violence, torture, mild profanity, brief gore, mild vulgarity); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Loews Cineplex Holladay Center, Midvalley, Trolley North and Trolley Square Mall Cinemas; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.

On the cinematic stupidity scale, there's "good" dumbness — "Charlie's Angels," for example — and there's just plain bad dumbness, like "Dungeons & Dragons."

The main difference between the two aforementioned movies couldn't be simpler to explain: whereas the former recognized it wasn't exactly brain food and touted that as a virtue, the latter seems to think it's smarter, more clever, than it actually is.

That's a big mistake with something as cheesy as this clueless fantasy-adventure, which inspires laughs when it's trying to be serious and blank stares when it's trying to be funny.

Also, the film's title could be considered something of a tease, since the few glimpses we get of dragons occur at the beginning and end of the movie, and there are relatively few dungeon scenes.

Not that either could really have improved this clinker, which is also short on decent acting and which only takes its inspiration and not its story from the popular role-playing fantasy game. Instead, it's set in the embattled mythical kingdom of Ismer.

The reason for the fighting is a class war of sorts between ordinary folk and magic-users, who have become the aristocrats and ruling class. Forward-thinking Empress Savina (Thora Birch) is trying to change that, but she's getting opposition from evil mage Profion (Jeremy Irons) . . . "mage," of course, being short for "magician."

In a bid to seize the empire, Profion is trying to find the Rod of Savrille, a mystical artifact that will give him the power to command red dragons, which may spell doom for everyone concerned.

Meanwhile, bumbling thieves Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans) find the scroll Profion needs to locate the rod, when they suddenly find themselves on the run from the sorcerer's henchmen. They're also stuck with a novice mage (Zoe McLellan) as their traveling companion.

As hard as it is to do fantasy right, it probably wasn't a good decision for the producers to let first-time filmmaker Courtney Solomon take a crack at this material. Judging by the uneven pacing, Solomon wasn't ready to helm something on this scale.

But as inept as his direction is, Solomon's script is worse, an awful screenplay that shamelessly swipes some of its characters and scenes from the "Star Wars" movies without as much as a simple acknowledgment.

In addition, nearly the entire cast puts in performances that range from wooden (Whalin, Birch and Kristen Wilson) to annoying (Wayans) to unbelievably over-the-top (Irons).

And if that isn't bad enough, the digital effects look so chintzy that they make TV's "Xena: Warrior Princess" look good by comparison (try to imagine the "Xena" effects blown up on the big screen).

"Dungeons & Dragons" is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence (including swordfights and hand-to-hand combat), a scene of torture, a couple of mild profanities, brief gore and some brief vulgar talk. Running time: 105 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com