I’ve got a freshly pressed tunic and newly duct-tape wrapped sword, ready to go. Ladies…
Recently dumped, struggling musician Joe is convinced by his friends to join them in a session of Live Action Role Playing (LARP – essentially Dungeons and Dragons acted out by participants with costumes, fake weapons, and intact virginity) in the woods. What starts out as a typical day of pretending to battle demons turns out to be more real than they could have imagined as an ancient book summons up the real thing and the game’s participants begin dying one at a time.
Much like last year’s Zero Charisma, this film successfully takes what could be a very insular subject matter and makes it accessible to even the uninitiated. Unlike that film, which achieved this feat by giving us a put upon character that we could all see a bit of ourselves in, Knights of Badassdom goes the route of following a fun formula that we’ve all seen and enjoyed before, and giving it its own spin.
The fact that you don’t have to be particularly familiar with LARPing is both a blessing and a curse here. Nerd culture is stronger than ever in society, and, by proxy, in film, but most portrayals, here included, tend to be overgeneralized. Sure, it makes the film more enjoyable to the masses, but at the same time, it also ensures that the story they are telling could take place in virtually any setting without much change. In this particular case, the subject of LARP seems to serve as only an entry point (and joke fodder), rather than a fully imagined world, for this cabinless take on the familiar cabin in the woods formula.
Having said that, the film is still quite enjoyable. Director Joe Lynch and writers Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall wisely remember that this is a comedy first and foremost and keep the laughs coming. The dialogue can be rather clever (maybe a bit too much so at times) and puerile at the same time (yes, that’s a compliment). The majority of the laughs, however, come with the kills. Creative and gory, the film takes on a bit of a slasher film vibe as it progresses. Sure, the effects aren’t the strongest (particularly in the crazy finale), but they are still a blast and do well within their budget. These effects, along with the woodsy setting, are where most of the favorable comparisons to Evil Dead 2 come in.
As for the actors, our lead trio of friends are played admirably by Ryan Kwanten, Peter Dinklage, and Steve Zahn. It is obvious that they are enjoying themselves (particularly Zahn), but the real fun is in the wacky supporting performances. Margarita Levieva as Joe’s ex and succubus-in-waiting, Danny Pudi doing a twist on Abed as a game player, and Summer Glau as Joe’s possible new love interest all add quite a bit to the proceedings, but Pudi and Glau, in particular, are resigned to what seem to be extended cameos. Stealing the show is Jimmi Simpson as the Game Master who also has a past with Joe. He’s both creepy and funny (as he often is) and seems to fit in best with the film’s reality.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS
I wish that I could say that I was reviewing director Joe Lynch’s vision of the film, but the truth is that what we are not presented with is a final product that has been heavily doctored by the studio and sat on the shelf for a few years. Much of what is wrong with the film seems to boil down to this fact. It doesn’t change the fact that we’re still getting a fun and funny hybrid of comedy, fantasy, horror, and nerd culture. I just can’t shake the feeling that, instead of the Freaks and Geeks style representation of nerd culture that the film in it’s original form could have provided, we’re left with more of a Big Bang Theory take on the worldwide geek takeover. Highly entertaining and on the nose, but not as special as it could (and should) have been.
Review by Jason Howard, Film Critic