The trailer for horror comedy Knights of Badassdom first premiered to much excitement at the San Diego Comic Con back in 2011. Since then it’s been languishing on the dreaded Hollywood “shelf,” making barely a peep until last year’s announcement of a release date (such as it is—the movie can pretty much only be seen via publicly ordered screenings through a website for a few weeks before then going to digital download and on-demand services). The prevailing scuttlebutt is that there was a clash between the film’s producers and director Joe Lynch over his edit, and said producers have been taking the time to piece their preferred version together. These types of delays are rarely a good sign, and that’s sadly borne out once again in this case.
Knights of Badassdom certainly has a winning premise, and a cast to match: Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, Ryan Kwanten and Summer Glau star as a group of LARPers, or live-action role-playing gamers—people who dress up in robes and armor and act out fantastical quests and battles à la Dungeons & Dragons in real life. During one of their overnight gaming sessions in the woods, they accidentally summon a live murderous demon when Zahn’s character recites a spell from an old tome he bought off the Internet.
The actors are all fully committed to their roles and seem to be having a good enough time; it’s certainly fun to see Peter Dinklage as a stoner dude in cheap chain mail, inadvertently lampooning the fantasy genre that has since made him so famous in HBO’s Game of Thrones. But the script they have to work with is, ironically, devoid of any magic. This is a movie that screams for cleverness and wit but only offers tantalizing rare glimpses. For example, the characters demonstrate the game’s hit-point system for sword fighting while “+1s” appear Scott Pilgrim-style for emphasis, a clever gimmick that seems tailor-made for a callback … but never shows up again. While the LARPers are ostensibly treated with affection, the film still repeatedly goes for low-hanging comedy fruit such as the histrionic and incorrect olde-English-speak they use while in-game, an obvious gag that quickly grows tiresome.
Those who’ve had Knights of Badassdom on their radar all this time are likely to get some mild amusement and satisfaction out of seeing the LARPing community depicted as something other than viral video fodder. Everyone else will find it a frustrating exercise of missed opportunities, as rough around the edges as the fake Frank Frazetta painting on your cousin’s van.
Director: Joe Lynch
Writers: Kevin Dreyfuss, Matt Wall
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, Summer Glau, Jimmi Simpson, Margarita Levieva
Release Date: Jan. 21, 2014, for TUGG screenings; Feb. 11, 2014, VOD