In this Big Bang Theory era of blockbuster Marvel movies, comic book petitions and Cosplay, the A.V. Club nerds from high school who rolled Dungeons and Dragons dice in the library while the popular kids went to pep rallies are having the last laugh since there’s never been a greater time in pop culture history to be an avowed geek.
And Wrong Turn 2 director Joe Lynch’s Knights of Badassdom was made precisely with the built in Comic-Con ready fanbase in mind in this in-joke, stunt-casting filled salute to the world of LARP, which stands for Live Action Role Play.
Badassdom is bursting at the seams with an amazing cast of genre favorites led by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage and True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten. Also featuring former-Firefly/current Arrow actress Summer Glau as well as Community’s Danny Purdi, Revenge’s Margarita Levieva, Gen X fave Steve Zahn and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia turned House of Cards scene-stealer Jimmi Simpson, Knights is an embarrassment of riches in terms of great cameos.
Unfortunately, aside from its likable leads, there isn’t all that much holding this movie together. However, you must credit the film’s inventive premise about die-hard Dark Ages fans so devoted to their Dungeons and Dragons-like role-playing lifestyle that they live in a mock-castle as it's something altogether new for the now over-crowded nerd genre.
The creativity continues from there as shortly into the picture they discover that their weekend adventures in make believe sorcery have taken a turn for the magical when an ancient text purchased on eBay accidently conjures up a real live blood-thirsty succubus from the depths of hell who’s taken the form of Kwanten’s ex-girlfriend.
Unfortunately, it’s around this time that the essential one-joke premise begins to grow stale. Perhaps sensing this, the film switches up genres altogether in an uneasy segue from self-conscious nerd humor to full-on zombie horror when the succubus begins picking off the LARPers one after another.
Obviously when body parts go flying, it’s only a matter of time before the players must put their years of practice to good use when they come face to face with an actual dragon unwilling to be vanquished by the role of the dice or a tap with a foam sword.
Although the premise is bright, the imagery is not as Knights is hindered by the marriage of its gory over-the-top effects with some rather unflatteringly dark lost-in-the-woods night cinematography not helped by a dull Blu-ray transfer.
Furthermore, Knights’s screenwriters do the film a disservice by losing the best thing it had going for it in terms of its offbeat humor to instead turn Knights into a cheap fantasy horror hybrid that continually falters by moving awkwardly back and forth in tone.
As such, Knights of Badassdom becomes one of those movies that’s infinitely more fun to describe to others than it is to watch which easily explains how it earned the greenlight and such an acclaimed cast of actors undoubtedly attracted to the unusual pitch which is certain to be far different from the fare they’re usually offered.
And honestly the ingenuity of Knights makes you wonder if the actors signed on for the novelty of the idea alone without bothering to read the script, since you have a hard time believing they would've joined up if they'd read it from start to finish.
Nonetheless, it does having one major saving grace in the form of actor Jimmi Simpson. Clearly having a ball portraying the ego driven game master, Simpson once again shows viewers and casting directors why he should be cast far more often by cracking us up long after we've started to lost interest in the film overall.
Turning in another undeniably hilarious performance on par with his ongoing supporting guest role on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and his pace-quickening season two performance on Netflix’s House of Cards, Simpson nails the tone the film should’ve adhered to all along by playing the comedy straight and generating laughter naturally.
At its best when it does just that and reminds us of the ‘80s classic of fantastical comedy The ‘Burbs from Joe Dante (whose work should’ve been studied before a single frame was shot), while so much of the film feels as uninspired as a dull night of Dungeons and Dragons, Simpson is the real thing as Badassdom’s film-saving nerdy badass.
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