Recently dumped by his girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva), Joe (Ryan Kwanten) gets a little help from his friends, Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage), who drag him into participating in a dungeons and dragons style role-playing reenactment. Initially, Joe has no interest in reliving his role-playing days, despite Eric having to pull some major strings with gamemaster Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson), but upon meeting Gwen (Summer Glau) at the festivities, he slowly begins to change his tune.
Things seem to be going as planned, that is, until Eric unwittingly summons an actual Succubus demon during a reenacted spell-casting. From there, role-playing becomes reality.
Knights of Badassdom is the kind of movie that goes so far under the radar, you don’t notice it until you’re flipping through Netflix, Redbox or it magically pops up in one of those $5 DVD bins at Wal-Mart. It did get a very limited theatrical release and is also available to purchase On Demand.
I can’t say I was overly excited to see this, but I’m always up for a good low-budget, blood splattering satire (Shaun of the Dead, and both 100 Bloody Acres and Sightseers from 2013). However, what we get, while not horrible, isn’t really anything special.
The cheap look of the sets are not the problem; in fact, that’s expected and poked fun at in the film (the main kingdom setting, Eliphaz, takes place in a parking lot). Where the film falters is in the writing, which lacks the bite that came with the three aforementioned films up above. When you consider the source material, LARPers (Live action role-players), there’s no excuse why writers Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall can’t deliver a script that’s smart, clever and witty. Fanboys (which poked fun at Star Wars fanatics) handled a similar demographic in such a way. Knights of Badassdom comes up short, settling for jokes revolving around poorly spoken Medieval talk more often than it should.
Ryan Kwanten’s Joe is a perfect example of where the writing slips up. When the film begins, we see Joe go through a quick breakup with his girlfriend and over time he becomes the reluctant hero of the group. Joe’s so uninteresting though as a character that we don’t really feel for him as he tries to move on from Beth and we don’t quite feel compelled to root for him as he leads the way against the Succubus. That’s not Kwanten’s fault. There’s a likeable presence about him, but the script really gives him no emotional substance, so it’s hard for the viewer to get behind him.
The film’s biggest crime though is giving Peter Dinklage very little to work with. Dinklage is an underrated actor, capable of switching on and off between drama and comedy (we’ll also get to see him in the upcoming X-Men film later this year), and you’d think having a Game of Thrones star would be a great move for endless riffing. You can’t fault Dinklage for lack of trying, but the script offers him very little to chew on.
We also get a throwaway group of “villains” in some neighboring paintball loving LARP bullies that really add nothing to the film other than being an extra, superfluous conflict.
What does work is the back and forth between Steve Zahn and Jimmi Simpson (best known, for me at least, as Liam McPoyle from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). As one of Joe’s best friends (aiming to accomplish a level 12 summoning spell) and the gamemaster who gets extremely into the reenactment respectively, Zahn and Simpson’s banter throughout the second act is quite entertaining. There are also some humorous film-ending superimposed narratives such as one of the characters, after dealing with a real Succubus, now always being “in game” afterward.
It’s an intriguing premise with a likeable cast, and the idea of satirizing LARPers contains potential rife with humor. The script, though, is mostly hit or miss here, with an entertaining middle act burdened somewhat by a weak intro and a final act that falls apart. While it does have its laughs (mostly through Zahn and Simpson) and you can tell director Joe Lynch and writers Dreyfuss and Wall maintain a respect for LARPs while poking fun at them, it winds up being an effort that screams clever satire, but just misses the mark.
I give Knights of Badassdom a C (★★½).