Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Cinema File #320: "Knights Of Badassdom" Review

Traditionally, whenever a subset of so-called Nerd Culture is depicted in film or television, it is by those with little direct experience, and no frame of reference to showcase it accurately. The recent gamer-centric film Noobz was a perfect example of this disconnect, employing the laziest cliches of videogame enthusiasts in order to rope in an audience only to then insult them. By contrast, the new LARPer horror comedy Knights Of Badassdom, whatever else you can say about it, seems to at least feel authentically made by and for the specific kind of nerds it focuses on, at least in so far as I understand them via my casual interest in the related hobby of tabletop roleplaying. Other than that however, there's little else positive to say about it.

Knights Of Badassdom follows a cadre of misfit fantasy geeks who inadvertently discover a tome of real magic that unleashes a murderous demon upon a massive outdoor festival. First of all, if you aren't aware of what LARPing is, it stands for Live Action Roleplaying, and its basically one step above what you might picture in a Dungeons and Dragons game, where instead of sitting around a table with dice and paper, participants dress up as the characters they're playing and act out the epic battles with foam weapons and bean bag projectiles. Fringe even among the fringe of old school fantasy gaming, the flourish and Renaissance fair style commitment to staying in character all make this practice rife for parody, which is only the first of many missed opportunities in this film.

After the first act of the movie sets it up, the fact that it takes place in a LARP festival ceases to really matter at all, as the unique premise gives way to a shallow and incredibly disappointing slasher movie formula that isn't even engaging stylistically on its own let alone integrated in a way to make it interesting in context. The supernatural element could have provided the backdrop for a Galaxy Quest style juxtaposition between fantasy fandom and reality, but instead it just becomes repetitive as random characters are introduced as this or that fantasy stereotype in one scene and then disemboweled or decapitated in the next. The main characters barely interact with the monster until the very end, and only after its shed what little personality it had and transformed into a giant puppet monster.

In lieu of an original story befitting its novel set up, Knights seems more interested in stacking the deck with fanservice-y casting, most obviously with Game Of Thrones' Peter Dinklage, who is joined by Community's Dani Pudi in a wasted role, as well as that genre mainstay and most manipulative of nerd-boner fodder, Firefly's Summer Glau. On second thought, to only single one of them out for being wasted is unfair, as none of them are really given enough to do. Most of the action centers around True Blood's Ryan Kwanten as the socially acceptable non-nerd handsome enough to believably get the girl, and Steve Zahn, who I'm pretty sure is trying to play a twenty something despite clearly being in his forties.

Before its release, Knights Of Badassdom was famously delayed for years in post-production, and the final product clearly shows a movie struggling to come together after the fact. There's been some question as to whether the released cut has been butchered by suits, and it certainly seems that way. I can only assume it was re-tooling as opposed to further time spent on effect shots considering how shoddy the effects are and how obviously re-cut the ending is. Without spoilers, a call back to the prologue in the final fight scene appears to be the key at one moment, only for it to fail in favor of a resolution that comes out of nowhere and only exists to remind us that Peter Dinklege was the only thing worth watching in this entire exercise. With so much going for it and so much time to get it right, this movie was definitely not worth the wait.

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