James Swift: Swift @ The Movies: 'Dune 2' disappoints

Mar. 22—My old college buddy Rodrigo — he's Portuguese, so you have to remember to pronounce it like "Hod-He-Go" — called me up on the phone a couple of weeks ago and told me I had to go see that new "Dune" movie.

He told me, with a straight face (or a straight voice, at least), that it was the "Lawrence of Arabia" of my generation. Well, after sitting through all three hours of "Dune: Part 2," I don't think Rodrigo has ever SEEN "Lawrence of Arabia" before. Or maybe he's confusing it with some other movie. Like "Tremors."

Now, I never saw the first "Dune" movie, but I vividly recall watching the first 30 minutes of that ancient "Dune" flick from the 1980s this one time. Along those same lines, I never read the book, but I did play the video game adaptation on the Sega Genesis back in the day. So I get that the Frank Herbert tome is revered in a lot of circles, even if my own grasp of the intellectual property is microscopic ... to say the least.

I see this movie getting rave reviews everywhere, but for the life of me, I just ain't seeing it. It's got a story that's about as generic as it gets. It's outer space, and you've got this evil empire of super-pasty skinned aliens without eyebrows that walk around wearing tunics and spouting bad Shakespeare lines. Then you've got this ragtag group of rebels who wear rubber tubes in their noses and drop "Art of War" quotes while blowing up robots and having gladiator knife fights with each other.

I've seen this kind of movie hundreds of times before, y'all. So what makes it different — or better — than any of its predecessors?

Well, it clearly isn't the acting. We've got the ultra effete Timothée Chalamet playing the Luke Skywalker stand-in and the ultra macho Zendaya playing the take-charge love interest. I have never seen two people onscreen have less chemistry than these two; Rocky and Bullwinkle had more palpable emotional friction.

The rest of the cast isn't much better. We've got Florence Pugh playing the requisite space princess, and pretty much all she does is walk around starring wide-eyed at the camera while wearing a duvet cover on her head. Even the usually reliable Christopher Walken — who tends to be the best thing about any movie he stars in — turns in a shockingly boring and subdued performance. After a while, I started wondering if they could've saved some money and just drew faces on tongue depressors instead.

Not even the action scenes can save this one. The big donnybrook at the end is just a buncha' computer-generated explosions, and everything on the screen looks plastic. I've been asking the same question for years now: How do the special effects in movies from 2024 actually look WORSE than the ones in movies from 1991?

I'm sure some nerd or academic-type out there can send me a long letter explaining all of the subtleties and nuances I missed. Clearly, it's hard to NOT interpret the movie as an obvious political allegory for what's going on in the Middle East right now. Only instead of oil, they're all fighting over "spice" — I mean, at this point, you might as well go the extra mile and just call it "nutmeg" or "paprika," shouldn't you?

Some people are going to love the movie no matter how many faults, flaws, clichés and tropes I point out, so I know I ain't gonna' be able to convert 'em. But if you're a normal, rank-and-file moviegoer, trust me on this one — even if you never watch it, you've already seen "Dune 2" before, since it's basically just cobbled out of 100 previous movies.

The best I can afford the flick is a ho-hum TWO PIECES OF POPCORN OUT OF FOUR rating. Unless you've REALLY got a thing for bald dudes perpetually bathed in weird blue lighting, there's not much here for you at all.