“Directed” by Joe Lynch… Sort of.
Distributed by eOne Entertainment
Before delving into a review proper of director Joe Lynch’s latest, Knights of Badassdom (2013), let’s address the elephant in the room. Horror fans might remember that last year it was announced the film’s producer had essentially seized control of the picture and re-cut it to his own specifications, leaving Lynch out of the final editing process. Something about cost overruns and trying to salvage the film in an effort to sell it to a distributor – honestly, it’s nothing all that outrageous because it’s happened many times before. This is Hollywood, after all.
A minor brouhaha erupted online, with many of Lynch’s supporters adamantly stating they would boycott the film, and even Lynch himself suggested the actors who starred in the movie boycott along with them. Every online effort was made to let the distributors know that what they were doing wasn’t jiving with the intended audience. And it isn’t hard to empathize with them, because maintaining artist integrity should be paramount on any film production. Someone has a vision, producers put up money based on that vision, and it should be seen through to the end. Even if this isn’t always how things actually happen, it must be disheartening to have “your baby” taken from you and transformed into what you hadn’t intended. Some reports suggested the new edit ran a scant 70 minutes long.
Eventually, what popped out was an 86-minute cut that may or may not be closely representative of what Lynch had in mind. From what I’ve heard, most of his cuts involved something referred to on set as a “blood cannon”, which was supposed to erupt during every single on-screen death (and probably a few off-screen, too). If whole scenes were lifted out, there’s not much chance their inclusion would improve the film. This just isn’t a good movie. No amount of added footage or gore could have salvaged it, which I suppose is some kind of backhanded consolation for Lynch. Remember how Role Models (2008) handled L.A.R.P.ing? Aside from Paul Rudd’s constant bashing, the people operating in that world took it very seriously. It was easier to believe what they were doing because everyone was so committed. In Knights of Badassdom, these people seem practically embarrassed. Self-deprecating humor is frequent, and the way the characters have been written it’s like the film is constantly making fun of them. And that would be ok… if the humor worked.
We’re introduced to Joe (Ryan Kwanten), an underachieving mechanic, and his roommates – Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage) – who happen to be Live Action Role-Play (L.A.R.P.) enthusiasts. When Joe’s girlfriend decides to kick him to the curb one afternoon, the guys are able to convince him (via an inhuman amount of booze and bong rips) to come out for a battle in their world. Upon arrival, they run into Gwen (Summer Glau), the lone hot girl out of hundreds who play this game. Do you think she’ll end up with the newly-single Joe?? Eric brought along an old ancient book that he doesn’t realize is incredibly powerful, and when they use it in a mock ritual, the book’s power winds up summoning a bloodthirsty succubus from Hell. After a good number of players have been killed, the guys try using the book to defeat her. Unfortunately, all it does is transform the demon into a larger, much more devastating form. Joe, Gwen, and whoever else is left alive have to work together in order to somehow take down this big-ass beast before it slaughters everyone playing the game.
There’s a bit when the movie starts where Eric, Hung and a few others are performing a ritual in the woods and it gets interrupted by some redneck paintball enthusiasts who start shooting up their site. Eric leaves his magical book behind and when a redneck grabs it, the book latches onto his face and leaves an imprint of a couple pages. The character then figures into exactly zero scenes until the very end, when his severed head appears at just the right moment to be used to deliver a banishment spell, since apparently that’s what got engrained into the face. Maybe that doesn’t sound quite so bad out of context, but that, for me, was the final groan of many I had throughout. It’s hard to come up with even a single thing that managed to work. I mean, the movie has Peter Dinklage in it, who is hotter than ever thanks to “Game of Thrones” (2011-present), and he could not feel more wasted. He’s got such immense talent and the lines he’s reciting are just… terrible, really. And let’s not even get into his “hero moment” during the climax, which is just so poorly executed that somewhere a Syfy Channel movie just smirked.
The best thing the film has going for it is the gargantuan demon beast, Abominog, which appears near the end. And it isn’t some lame-ass CGI creation, either. This big bruiser is brought to life via the good old man-in-suit technique, with The Creature Man himself, Doug Tait, donning the bulky construction. The suit looks huge and difficult to maneuver, which is evident when you see how it moves. And Tait is a damn fine suit actor, so any lack of finesse in the movements can likely be attributed to the problems inherent with wearing something so large. The design is awesome, too, even if it is the archetypal demon we’re expecting. At least this guy is massive. If there were any scenes I’d say Lynch’s aforementioned “blood cannon” would be useful in, they’re when this big boy is slaughtering nerds left and right.
It would have been better to see the film play itself straighter, without all the attempts at humor. Do it in the ‘80s fashion of having a solid group of identifiable kids L.A.R.P.ing it up in the woods before some wicked evil comes forth or something and they have to band together and fight it. Maybe this could have worked as straight-up horror, but when you toss in comedy it instantly turns the film much more subjective. And most of these jokes sound like the sort of stuff that cracks your stoned friends up after a long night of getting wasted, not the kind of wry, witty barbs that stick.
Verily, this film doth sucketh much.
I’ll tell you what – the 2.40:1 1080p image looks pretty damn spectacular. Just about every aspect of the picture looks adept, with excellent color reproduction and strong contrast levels. Cinematographer Sam McCurdy lit this thing beautifully, so that even when the action moves to the shadows fine detail is still apparent. Skin tones have a natural, lifelike appearance. Detail is great in close-up, medium, and wide shots. There’s even an appreciable level of depth to the image. Camera specs aren’t readily available online, but it looks to have been shot digitally, which would also explain the absence of grain and the razor-sharp crispness of the picture. Aside from the occasional soft or murky shot, there’s very little to complain about. Likewise, the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track comes through with great fidelity. Composer Bear McCreary’s score is perfectly befitting the fantasy/whimsical/old world feeling the film attempts to capture. Separation of dialogue and effects is handled with ease, and the rear channels – though not overpowering – do add a nice touch of ambiance to aid in audible immersion. There are more than a few moments where the LFE track gets to thump and rattle, most of which appear at the end when the action kicks into a higher gear. Subtitles are included in English SDH.
Nearly all of the bonus material comes in the form of interviews with various cast & crew members. Interviews that are very short. So short you wonder why they weren’t just strung together. There’s a Peter Dinklage interview; something called the “Summer Glau Hottie Montage” which is just Glau being interviewed along with a couple of her clips from the film slowed down to add… a sense of lust? Honestly, I don’t mind occasionally objectifying a good-looking woman but this piece’s title is a little demeaning considering it’s just an interview like everyone else’s. Next is a Steve Zahn interview, then two clips entitled “Horr-o-Medy 1 & 2”, in which cast/crew members briefly discuss the film’s elements. Director Joe Lynch is interviewed, but this looks to have been conducted during production and before any controversy. It would have been great to hear Lynch’s thoughts on the film’s current cut, but it’s pretty clear why that wouldn’t be included.
The film’s San Diego Comic-Con Panel is also included, with the cast/crew discussing the film in front of a packed audience. The theatrical trailer rounds out the set.
1 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5