Review: Knights of Badassdom

I didn’t hate it.

I was entertained for most of the film.

I might watch it again.

This isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but neither is it hard condemnation. Knights of Badassdom is a movie that is firmly in the “mediocre” camp. Knights of Badassdom has moments of humour, but few truly great laughs; it has  moments of horror, but no really terrifying scares; and it has moments of character, but no dramatic pathos. There’s only a couple really stand-out scenes, few moments that stick with you after the credits roll, and most egregiously, no quotable lines worth repeating later at the gaming table.

The What

The elevator pitch is: an aspiring heavy metal musical gets dumped and gets dragged to a LARP by his friends where they accidentally summon a real demon.

The premise is ridiculous but the movie plays the horror elements straight. While it’s a horror comedy, the scares are more genuine than slapstick and the succubus has actual menace. There is blood and people die. Horribly. The humour in the movie comes from the reactions of the people involved, it’s a horror movie in an absurd location cast with funny people. And there is some dark comedy. This is a style I actually enjoy: I dig genuinely funny people in dead serious situations rather than relying on the situation to prop-up the laughs.

The Who

The cast of the movie both elevates the film and makes it more of a disappointment. There’s some real talent on the screen, but none are really used to their full potential.

The film stars Ryan Kwanten, aka Jason Stackhouse from Tru Blood, Summer Glau aka River Song from Firefly/Serenity, and Steve Zahn the perpetual comic relief sidekick.

It also “stars” Danny Pudi aka Abed from Community and Peter Dinklage aka Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. The latter two have smaller roles in the film than might be indicated by the trailer, likely because Game of Thrones hadn’t aired when the movie was filmed and Community was far less well-known. These two actors really feel wasted in their supporting roles. They’re really just there (although Dinklage still manages to give a solid performance despite having almost nothing to work with).

The How

The film doesn’t seem to know what to do with the LARP setting. It’s not entirely mocking of LARPing as a hobby, but neither is it entirely sympathetic. At best, the approach could be called “even handed”.

In discussion of Knights of Badassdom I often see the film Role Models brought up. This is an unremarkable comedy starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott from back in 2008, now pretty much remembered entirely by gamers because it featured LARPing (although given another name in the film for reasons). While I haven’t seen the movie, I gather it treated LARPing neutrally, presenting it as a fun activity and potentially more favourably than Knights of Badassdom.

The film employs the go-to stereotypes, such as the person not entirely grounded in reality, the creepy guy with no social skills or ability to talk to girls, and the obsessed player overly involved in the game. These stereotypes are not just background characters but some of the primary characters of the film. That Zahn’s character – the obsessive – never manages character growth, such as finding a balance between the fantasy and reality, is emblematic of the problems of the movie. The movie never seems to be sure if it should condemn Zahn’s character for centering his life around LARPing, or if it should be accepted as his hobby.

Kwanten’s character is also an aspiring metal musician, but doesn’t seem to be having much success. The movie could have done something interesting by equating his fantasy life of metal-god dreams with Zahn’s character, questioning how one fantasy is better than another, how the “straight” character spends just as much time in a fantasy. But it doesn’t.

The movie really just doesn’t live up to its concept. The hook of the film is so solid, the idea is so fun, the cast is so exceptional, and yet the movie just… isn’t.

DRAMA!

While filmed in 2010 the film didn’t see release until 2014 due to problems finding distribution and conflict between the producers and the director. The final cut of the film was not the director’s vision, being handled by the producers who did the editing.

This means we have no way of knowing what the movie *could* have been. Comedy is all about the timing and a re-editing could easily turn chuckles into genuine laughs, spooks into genuine chills, and the loose plot into an actual story. There could have been character growth, greater depth, and a more memorable experience. The movie might easily have be a little more favourable regarding LARPing, treating it like slightly less of a joke. Or, alternatively, it could have been much worse and the producers salvaged a mediocre movie from a train wreck of a film. Who knows? Although, as cinema is a director’s art, I’m usually inclined to favour directors’ cuts.

Serious Spoilers:

I also wondering if the ending wasn’t tweaked and CGed to give a little extra presence to Peter Dinklage who has become such a presence since the movie was filmed. While pretty cool and actually one of the more memorable moments, it seemed a little tacked-on. I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a much longer epilogue, potentially with some character growth and story resolution, that was cut to give Dinklage a larger end role.

TL;DR

Knights of Badassdom is not a bad film, it’s just unremarkable. It’s not so-bad-its-good but neither is it hilarious and memorable for its own qualities. Which, in many ways is worse, because this means it doesn’t even qualify for ironic viewing during a Bad Movie Night. It’s entertaining enough not to regret viewing but not entertaining enough to be memorable or achieve cult movie status.

Knights of Badassdom is remarkable because it had such a solid trailer and was delaying making it heavily anticipated. If it had been quickly released, before the trailer had time to really circulate everywhere on the internet, before the cast had truly broken-out, then Knights of Badassdom would likely have been released, seen a handful of times, and then vanished. While the movie is likely much more successful now that word has spread, this just makes the viewing a tad more disappointing.