An animated feature based on an absurdly complicated children's card game from Japan, Yu-Gi-Oh! never manages to come up trumps. Aimed squarely at the game's pre-teen fan base, it's more like an extended advert than a movie: a marketing department's sales pitch whose only purpose is to encourage viewers to purchase more of the cult duelling cards. That probably explains why the story - about champion card player Yugi (voiced by Dan Green) who saves the world from an ancient Egyptian curse - seems so basic.
Making no concessions to those unfamiliar with the difficult rules of the trading card game, comicbook or spin-off TV series, Yu-Gi-Oh! throws us right into the action as Yugi battles Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead, accidentally released from his pyramid tomb by over-eager archaeologists. Like Pokémon: The First Movie, this is a heavily Americanised reworking of the original Japanese film (no subtitles here) complete with braindead dialogue garbled in translation: "Even eternity doesn't last forever!"
"WEIGHED DOWN BY WEIGHTY EXPLANATIONS"
The lack of any back story is a serious handicap, but what's impossible to forgive is the sheer tedium involved in watching these characters duel each other using their cards and the holographic monsters they release. With its spiky-haired heroes, doe-eyed heroines, and fanciful creatures, this bears more resemblance to a cut scene from one of the Final Fantasy videogames than a fully-fledged narrative. It's a painful, ponderous experience that's not helped by being weighed down by lengthy explanations of the esoteric duelling rules.
The only note of light relief comes in the shape of the game's ageing creator, Pegasus, whose effete manner suggests that at least someone involved in the American scripting had a sense of humour ("What a horrible nightmare! No more white wine spritzers before bedtime for me!"). Still, that's not enough to stop one from being thankful that this time at least, you don't "gotta catch 'em all".