Wed
Apr 2 2014 1:00pm

Knights of Badassdom: Verily Dost This Movie Suck

Picture this: San Diego Comic-Con, July 2011. Director Joe Lynch premieres a hilarious trailer for his upcoming LARP-horror comedy Knights of Badassdom starring Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister, True Blood’s Jason Stackhouse, Firefly’s River Tam, Community’s Abed Nadir and Steve Zahn. Steve Zahn pretty much always plays Steve Zahn in fantastic style.

I was one of those excited Comic-Con attendees who immediately got home and followed Knights of Badassdom on social media, eager for updates. I’m not into LARPing, but I do love Peter Dinklage, Steve Zahn, and Summer Glau. And Ryan Kwanten does a good comedic job on True Blood, so I was looking forward to seeing him play another jock dropped into silly fantasy tropes. Then the updates got worse and worse. The financiers were getting involved and delaying and making cuts to the movie. The movie had no distributor and when it finally did, the director’s cut wouldn’t be released. There would be no theatrical release either, only select screenings in smaller venues and digital on-demand.

So, two years after its original anticipated release date, Knights of Badassdom is getting its only potential for a wide audience on DVD and Blu Ray. While that isn’t necessarily the sign of a bad movie, my expectations were definitely lowered. Knowing what I do about the movie’s troubled past, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Lynch’s struggles and what this movie could’ve been. However, I have to review the movie I watched.

This movie does not even put the “bad” into “Badassdom.” It takes the bad right out and leaves a steaming pile of flat jokes, boring plot, terrible effects, and so much wasted talent. Yes, Knights of Assdom is definitely more like it.
The story is a simple one: likeable metalhead mechanic Joe (Kwanten) is dumped by his girlfriend because she has grown tired of his laziness and his immature friends who live in a weirdly awesome suburban castle and live-action role play in their free time. This makes her a Bitch, just so you know (even though it seemed like a fair criticism to me, given that all we know about Joe is that he loves Beth and metal). Anyway, Joe’s best buddies — Eric (Zahn) a trust fund kid-cum-Level 26 wizard and Hung (Dinklage) an energetic party animal— decide to get Joe wasted, which leads to Joe ending up in a suit of armor at the biggest LARP tournament of the year. While trying to gain his next level, Eric accidentally summons a Succubus in the form of Joe’s ex and bloody hijinks ensue.

All this is fine set-up, except this doesn’t feel quite like the love-letter to LARPing we were promised. There’s a few cute jokes with horribly botched Old English and subtitles and some meta digs at the humbleness of the tournament’s map. Peter Dinklage subverts expectations about his stature by (pretend)kicking Joe’s ass in an almost obligatory way. And there’s a parade of familiar faces for anyone who watches too much TV: That Guy from Mad Men Who is Not John Hamm or Grown-up Connor from Angel, That Guy from House of Cards, That Guy from The West Wing, That Guy from Mr. Show (Brian Posehn, who only gets one measly scene!)

If this sounds like a lot of guys it is, but one of the few things I liked about the movie was, aside from Beth, women were mostly treated in a non-creepy way and you could tell they got a lot of authentic LARPers of all genders to be enthusiastic extras.

The special effects are subpar, which would be charming in a movie that already had some charm. Knights of Badassdom wants to be a horror comedy, but it doesn’t have the budget of a Shaun of the Dead or This is the End. That’s understandable. But the overall film looks really washed out and even the score is shoddy and lacking energy. I had just been thinking that the music reminded me an awful lot of what I’d imagine Bear McCreary’s outtakes from Starz’ pirate drama Black Sails must sound like and, sure enough, Bear McCreary is indeed composer. Since this movie is technically about two years older than Black Sails, I think Knights of Badassdom really was his first draft. Which is sort of unintentionally hilarious. And another squandered bit of geek pedigree.

Summer Glau plays the hot warrior chick escorting Joe, Eric, and Hung on their quest to defeat Demon-Beth and she’s largely pretty good, but naturally Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn steal the show. Their characters are the only ones with any discernible personality, although Danny Pudi as Lando (another wizard) gets a few moments to shine, too. But there’s no story here. Joe’s presented as the hero, but he doesn’t really ever address the reasons that made Beth dump him - he just wants to kill the demon that’s wearing her face. There’s not even a corny message here. The hero’s journey just sort of peters out.

I know the producers made some cuts and the abundance of over-explained jokes reek of a studio trying to dumb down a subculture for laypeople. But I’m hugely skeptical that Lynch’s cut would’ve made Knights of Badassdom any better, unless it reintroduced some punchlines.

Funny jokes don’t cost your bottom line a dime so it’s supremely frustrating to watch a movie with such great comedy potential and an even better cast stumble. LARPers hoping for something by a fan for a fan won’t find enough in-jokes to satisfy and people outside the community will find the over-explanation of the LARPing world really damned tedious after the fourth joke about the parking lot of doom. The biggest fail of Knights of Badassdom is that it doesn’t know its audience.

Hint: the audience is the group of people who’d be better off watching Your Highness while sober. Take that as you like.


Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering True Blood, Game of Thrones, and gaming news. She’s also the resident Hannibal fannibal at Boing Boing. Follow her on Twitter @tdelucci

17 comments
David Foster
1. ZenBossanova
Heresy! That was an awesome movie!
The only complaint I had was a tonal shift between trying to be a comedy and have horror, but other than that, the theatre I saw it in, had the audience laughing and cheering. It was the most fun I have had at a movie in years. Yes, even more fun than Avengers. Not necessarily better, but it was just more fun.
Walker White
2. Walker
@1

The problem with these types of movies is you have to see them with an audience to make them work. It is the energy of the audience which makes up for the shortcomings in the film. This is also why you always need to see a horror film on release day.
Arentil
3. Arentil
I would agree with you, ZenBossanova! (Weird tonal shift & all - was not quite expecting it to take such a dark turn.) We saw it in a small theatre & everyone had a great time. Laughing & cheering all around.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
You're breaking my heart Theresa I wanted this to be SO GOOD. And I thought Your Highness was terrible, and I wanted it to be good. Why can no one make fun of the things I love, in a way that I love, WHY????
Arentil
5. pjbwilson
What is LARP? Maybe you could explain before going off on one.
David Foster
6. ZenBossanova
Live Action Role-Play
Imagine people acting out D&D in the park, in full costume
David Thomson
7. ZetaStriker
My friend who LARPs, and my friend who doesn't both watched it with me. All three of us found it amazing, and in particular the non-LARPer is really into metal and she loved it for that too.
Theresa DeLucci
8. theresa_delucci
@7 I just didn't find it funny at all. Nothing about it clicked with me. I love metal, too, and when I saw noted metalhead comedian Poesen, I got all excited thinking that music (and him) would play a bigger part, but it didn't.

@4 I KNOW. I really, really, really, really wanted to love the hell out of this movie. And I only chuckled like three times. I haven't seen Fanboys, but I'm told it's similarly divisive. And had an equally hard time getting released.

@2 Perhaps, but I didn't see it coming to any theaters in NYC. The screenings seemed to have been done by request in smaller venues. Anyway, most movie theaters in NYC come with risk of bed bugs, so I wasn't risking that for this movie. Ha! Audience *can* change perspective, I agree. I had a total blast seeing Chronicles of Riddick on opening night with a heckling audience of nerds.

@1 Horror comedy can be awesome, though i wasn't expecting such an emphasis on horror here, more lighter fantasy. The movie was surprisingly gory (but in no way to an offensive, gratuitous degree.)
David Thomson
9. ZetaStriker
Well I can't tell you you're wrong for having a different sense of humor, so there you go!

As for the special screenings that you mentioned, it's actually pretty interesting; I hadn't heard of the group that set it up until I watched this. It's a website called Tugg, and you can basically ask them to try to set up a showing of various indy films for you. They contact the theater, and the theater tells them how many confirmed tickets need to be sold before they'll allow it. Tugg then hosts a page where anyone can "buy" tickets, but no one's card is charged until the required threshold for the screening is passed.

The only issue is most of the marketing for the screening has to be done by those who requested tickets; Tugg only posts the requested screening, and the theater doesn't even so much as list the screening as one of the available showtimes. So you'd have to already know about Tugg and browse the requested screenings, or know someone who requested the screening in question. I only found it after the Knights of Badassdom Facebook page linked Tugg to everyone looking for the screening of it, and then went to a screening in my city.
alex
10. jerec84
I've been waiting for years to finally see this movie based on that first trailer so long ago. I still want to see it, but now I guess I have to drastically lower my expectations.
Genevieve Williams
11. welltemperedwriter
We enjoyed it, but we saw it with a bunch of extras from the film in the audience, which I am sure helped.

Aeryl, you may want to check out "Of Dice and Men," I'm not sure what stage the film is at but I've seen the play it's based on, and it's really good. (Full disclosure, the author is a childhood friend.)
Michael Grosberg
12. Michael_GR
I saw it in a screening and I liked it and yes, the crowd laughed and cheered and I guess it made all the difference. I'm not going to re-watch it anytime soon though, I know I'll be disappointed.
Shelly wb
13. shellywb
I pretty much agree with this review. I watched it with my husband and we thought it was terrible. Maybe a crowd would have helped, but the material itself just wasn't there for us. It seemed like such a wasted opportunity.

I did get the feeling that the movie had been drastically changed from what it was meant to be in that old trailer.
Arentil
14. a1ay
Knights of Badassdom wants to be a horror comedy, but it doesn’t have the budget of a Shaun of the Dead

Good grief. I think there are probably beer commercials that had a bigger budget than Shaun of the Dead. If you spent SOTD's entire budget on casting megastars, you could produce a film that consisted of nothing but 90 minutes of Will Smith's left leg.
Luis Milan
15. LuisMilan
@14 "If you spent SOTD's entire budget on casting megastars, you could produce a film that consisted of nothing but 90 minutes of Will Smith's left leg."

- In a world... where genre movies are made by businessmen in suits and not by true fans of the genre... one actor's leg will defy the marketing people to show them the true power of Hollywood mega-stars.

Will Smith's left leg stars in... "The Sinister Appendage: the rise and fall of Will Smith's Left Leg".

Coming soon.
Theresa DeLucci
16. theresa_delucci
@15 I'd see that movie.

Okay, I'm probably in the minority here, but I thought Grandma's Boy was a hilarious movie about potheads that also had an awesome geek sensibility. Like JP's obsession with the Matrix and cyborgs and bragging about his early copies of Buffy DVDs. Those, to me, are jokes written by a person really tapped into something about geek and gamer culture. Or maybe I'm biased because myself and a few others used to walk around the Tor offices speaking in robot voices until it got really old. Which took a surprisingly long time.

For what it was (a movie about a slacker pothead living with senior ladies) it worked great. And it looked nice too - bright colors, some nice location shooting. It just looked cheery. Shaun and Grandma's Boy had the same budget $5M, according to IMdB, but I can't find a budget for Knights. I'm assuming it was a lot less than that. Shaun didn't look all muddy and washed out. Granted, zombies are also easier to make up than otherwordly demon FX.
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
The nicest thing I can say about this movie is: it looks like it was a lot of fun to make.

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