Confession time: I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I was a kid in the pre-Internet days so never knew who played it in my neighbourhood, and the neighbours’ kids were so straight-laced and vanilla they’d make fun of guys who had hair long enough to touch their shirt collars… anyway, I was more a Trekkie than anything else. In fact, the closest I ever got to D&D was that cool animated series with the kids and their weapons, and the baby unicorn mascot and the hot acrobat chick in the barbarian furs. Mmm, Diana the Acrobat… she, along with Dana Plato on DIFFERENT STROKES, helped get me through adolescence.
What, Too Much Information?
Anyway, I never even understood the specifics of the game until I saw an episode of COMMUNITY where they played it. And I didn’t see any of the movies – but then neither did anyone else (BOOM!). But I remained aware of it, and of the subculture of LARPs (Live Action Role-Playing games), but again, never played any. But, as with D&D, I knew precious little about LARPs beyond snide jokes from superior assholes. Now, however, a movie, KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM, explores this subculture, while also throwing us a decent little movie in its own right.
It opens with the obligatory narration name-dropping real-life Elizabethan mystic John Dee, a mathematician and astrologer who embraced science and magic like Charlie Sheen embraces coke and tiger blood, and was probably the inspiration for Shakespeare’s sorcerer character Prospero in The Tempest. According to the movie, Dee wrote a book of spells that was meant to summon angels via song, but instead brought forth demons (which are technically fallen angels, so I suppose Dee can’t be sued for that). And since Dee’s time, people have sought the book like some knock-off Necronomicon…
We then open up on a coven of robed figures in the woods, one of them reading from a book (gee, I wonder if it’s the same one?) before stabbing something on a stone stab. Another figure approaches and informs the reader, “You failed, Eric.”
Eric (Steve Zahn, NATIONAL TREASURE) throws back his hood and exclaims, “Bullshit!” Eric and his buddy Hung (Peter Dinklage, GAME OF THRONES and the upcoming X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST) argue with the man, Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson, ZODIAC), a Game Master witnessing Eric’s attempts to graduate to Grand Sorcerer. Ronnie has found his spell casting pitiful, however, despite Eric haven’t purchased a cool old spell book on Ebay. They continue arguing, unaware that the group is being stalked by men in camouflage and carrying guns…
Paintball guns. Paintballers shoot at the gamers and chase them away, declaring that these woods are “their” woods (yeah, ‘coz guys who run around playing soldier have far more legitimacy than guys running around playing wizard). In the panic, Eric leaves behind his spell book, but when paintballer Randy (W. Earl Brown, SCREAM) tries to rip the book in half, not only does he fail, but it leeches itself onto his face and tattoos the contents of one of the pages onto his skin! Then the book vanishes and appears by Eric’s side in his van, making him think he must have taken it with him all along.
After the credits, we meet mechanic Joe (Ryan Kwanten, TRUE BLOOD) whose thrashing doom metal love song to his girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva, THE INVISIBLE) leaves her unimpressed, as does his apparent lack of maturity and ambition, and breaks up with him. He lives with his friends Eric and Hung in a faux castle in Suburban America, and they stop preparing for an upcoming LARP when they realise that their friend is seriously hurting – they know when they hear him playing a power ballad! Although Joe never LARPed before (is that a verb?), he did use to be a Dungeons and Dragons legend (he once gave Ronnie’s Paladin character demonic syphilis, which has got to *burn*), and joining them might help him forget about Beth. He’s reluctant… but one powerful hit off a bong and a shanghai later, and he wakes up and finds himself armoured up and in the fields of Evermore… or at least, some woods somewhere.
This LARP is being directed by Ronnie, whose past antagonism towards Eric, Joe and Hung will make the trio’s quest that much harder. But his Game Master status holds little weight with player Gwen (Summer Glau (FIREFLY, SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, ARROW) or her huge, hardcore barbarian cousin Gunther (Brett Gipson), who, along with cleric Lando (Danny Pudi, COMMUNITY), joins our heroes on a quest before the Battle of Evermore the next day. However, one of Eric’s initiation spells summons into reality a succubus, one who takes on Beth’s image and who begins seducing and killing everyone she meets. Our heroes, finding the bodies of their friends, trying to summon help – real help – but unfortunately, their attempts to call the local police fail when the local police turn out to be the same paintballers from the start of the movie, and so once again, the nerds have to save the world…
KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM is quite a bit of fun. Director Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2) doesn’t spoon feed the audience with wordy explanations about what it’s all about, but trusts in their intelligence and savviness (and a good script). One thing that’s positive about this movie is that the LARPers are not portrayed as sad losers who can’t get a grip on reality (I’m looking in your direction, BIG BANG THEORY), but men and women just having fun getting into the game while remaining aware that it’s just a game. The themes of the clash between fiction and reality reminded me of GALAXY QUEST, which like KNIGHTS is sympathetic to the subcultures they il
The movie offers visual jokes (including subtitles for when LARPers speak in faux-Medieval) and other gags (the various quest groups have names like Gnomeland Security and The Medieval Knievils!). The story throws a few curves – characters you expect to survive don’t and vice versa, assholes become heroes and so forth.
And the movie doesn’t skimp on the gore, either; there are stabbings, beheadings, disembowelments, jaws ripped off… and all the practical, non-CGI work gets a thumbs up from me, too. The cast members are obviously enjoying themselves, with stand-outs like Zahn and Dinklage demonstrating why they would achieve later fame.
The movie was made in 2012, but was stuck for two years waiting for distribution (and allegedly had been re-cut by the distributors, I suspect due to highlight Dinklage since GAME OF THRONES, but I have no evidence towards this).
The movie is available on VOD. The trailer is below.
Director: Joe Lynch
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. And Edna.