Uneven Cult-ish Flick Only Flirts With True Greatness
Mar 28, 2014
Although I like to privately imagine myself still of that age group acceptably dubbed ‘fanboys,’ I’m probably a bit older than most to be a true card-carrying variety. I’ve always loved film – I have tremendous respect for almost any picture that gets churned out by the studios or the indie types, and I’ve always been drawn to sci-fi, horror, and generally quirky features which fanboys tend to worship. I’ve noticed as of late, though, that the older I grow the less inclined I am to give some of the usual fare as much freedom to play fast and loose with what is honestly entertaining. Ten years ago, I may’ve laughed myself silly over something like KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM. Today? Well, today I’ll smile about some of the successful elements, but I find myself cringing over stuff that’s just callously overblown … which is more than this film should’ve done.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Down on his luck in a dead-end job and recently dumped by his girlfriend, Joe (played with his textbook golly-gee assurance by Ryan Kwanten) finds himself stoned and dragged by his two besties – Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage) – to a medieval LARP (Live Action Role Players) weekend festivity meant to cleanse the kingdoms of evil. The problem is that Eric accidentally has released an authentic demon into the wilds with a spell from an all-new book he’s found, and this’ll require the team to join forces with Gwen (Summer Glau), her cousin Gunther (Brett Gipson), and a few others in order to stay alive and vanquish the beast.
A few decades back, I can remember penning a review for BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. I fondly recall what I wrote, much of it being that there’s a wealth of charm in any scripted idea that takes a group of lovable nitwits and plunks them into a situation requiring they step up, do the right thing, and save the world in the process. It’s that charm that fuels quite a bit of KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM’s first half (what I’d term the better half); but once the bloodletting starts and the bodies pile up that welcome vibe kinda/sorta goes bye-bye, causing the picture to splinter into something vastly different all too quickly.
Thematically – much like I wrote with BILL AND TED – these characters are classic knuckleheads. Real life offers them very little reward, so they’ve understandably embraced what role-playing offers them: a chance at greatness. As people, they’re committed to achieving more and more skills, to acquiring more and more power they can put to use within the game; and, on that level, each of them is not only understandable but also relatable. The audience is drawn to them in part because they’re clueless but it’s an inviting cluelessness – an existence they revere. It’s precisely Eric and Hung’s affinity that pushes them to bring Joe into their world: they know that this release from the pain of day-to-day life can bring rewards, and that’s something he definitely needs.
However, once the succubus is loose and roaming the countryside – erm, city park – the film starts to gravitate toward bloodshed. The first few unfortunate victims are dispatched with joy – an almost tongue-in-cheek, winking-at-the-camera hokeyness; once an important death is delivered with bloody surprise, that’s when BADASSDOM lost its charm for me. Granted, director Joe Lynch went to great pains to try and recover it, but it just never felt right after that moment.
I know those fellow fanboys of mine out there will be disappointed with this review, but I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em. Maybe that makes me a curmudgeon. Maybe that makes me a fuddy-duddy. Still, I expected an awful lot more due to this film’s long-lasting internet buzz as well as the wealth of acting talent up on the screen. A disappointment, but not a disaster.
KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2013) is produced by IndieVest Pictures and North by Northwest Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by E One Entertainment (aka Entertainment One). As for the technical specifications, this is one smartly manufactured piece of mirth, and it offers up some quality sights and sounds – there’s even a handful of practical effects (splatter and gore variety) that are quite good, while some of the brief CGI-style stuff leaves a bit to be desired. If it’s special features you’re interested in, then you have a solid handful to anticipate: besides the usual behind-the-scenes stuff, there are some good interviews with the cast, a celebration of Summer Glau’s “hotness,” and even a San Diego Comic Con panel. Not too shabby.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. I won’t hide my disappointment with KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM. This flick has had an incredible shelf-life so far as entertainment websites are concerned. Having read so much unadulterated praise about this thing and its central performances, I honestly expected more laughs and even bigger moments from it than what was delivered. It musters some occasional charm – much of it in the first half – but so very much of its misplaced violence is probably why this cult flick struggled for so long to find a legitimate distributor. In this era of PC-correctness, there’s an awful lot in here some folks might find objectionable. My advice – always remember it’s a cult flick, and you should do fine with it.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at E One Entertainment (aka Entertainment One) provided me with an advance DVD copy by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.