I really, really, really wanted to love Knights of Badassdom. I mean, hell; the cast – including the oh-so-lovely Summer Glau, Steve Zahn (whose work I always enjoy. Yes, even Strange Wilderness) and the man, the myth, the legend that is Peter Dinklage – was enough to sell me on the flick when I first heard about it a couple of years back. During what seemed like an interminable amount of time “in post-production”, I’d heard plenty of things, both good and bad, about Joe Lynch’s comedy/horror ode to the crazy world of live action role playing (LARP for short), and that only further fueled my desire to see it. Now that I’ve finally had the chance, however, I’m beginning to understand why it sat in limbo for as long as it did.
True Blood hunk, Ryan Kwanten, stars as Joe, a wannabe rock star with a dead-end job, and a high-maintenance girlfriend named Beth (Margarita Levieva) who’s looking for someone with better prospects. Beth dumps Joe, leaving him in the care of his buddies Hung (Dinklage) and Eric (Steve Zahn) – two fantasy-obsessed stoners who live in a replica castle and spend all their time and money on pot, booze, and medieval weaponry. While Joe pines for Beth, Hung and Eric get him inebriated to the point of passing out, and then drag him off to a weekend-long LARP event. At first Joe is furious that his friends have forced him to take part in something he grew out of long ago, but, when once he sets eyes upon Gwen (Glau), Joe decides that this may be just the thing to help him get over Beth.
Eric, meanwhile, has his own agenda for the event, and that is to show up the arrogant Ronnie Kwok (Jimmi Simpson), who oversees the event and has never forgiven Eric and Joe for a traumatic D&D session played in their youth. Eric’s come prepared, however, with an antique book he found on E-bay to use as a prop during a wizard test that he is determined to finally pass. During a dry run, Eric enlists the aid of Joe and chants a random spell from the book, unknowingly summoning an evil succubus from another realm that, using Joe’s memories of his prom night, takes the form of his ex-girlfriend, Beth. While the LARPers go about their role-playing ways, the evil Beth succubus cuts a swathe of death and destruction through them, leaving it up to Joe and his friends to send the beast back to whence it came.
With a great cast (that also includes Community’s Danny Pudi in an extended cameo) and a subject ripe for fun-poking, Knights of Badassdom sadly squanders its chances, settling to be an occasionally chuckle-inducing, silly, and over-the-top bit of fan service. Much like Lynch’s FearNet series, Holliston, Knights is heavy on geekcentric humor and low-brow antics, and while the gore/horror elements will probably prove pleasing for fans of that series, general audiences may find Lynch’s borderline fetishistic handling of the material off-putting. For me, the biggest missed opportunity here is the LARP element, itself. I get that Lynch probably didn’t want to offend the LARPing community as a whole, but there’s a lot of funny that could be had from adults dressed up in homemade costumes whacking each other with foam swords and NERF “fireballs”. Hell, I’m sure half of the people who do this stuff know it’s pretty ridiculous (and lord knows I do plenty of ridiculous stuff myself, so I’m not judging), but Lynch, along with screenwriters Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall, opt for the “kind and gentle” approach here that, to me, just feels too safe and pandering. I was also tremendously let down by the film’s inane conclusion in which Joe uses his “doom metal” skills to save the day. It’s actually rather painful to watch, and, were I not hoping for an “It was all a dream” ending to save it, I’d have probably shut the film off right then and there.
It’s probably worth noting that this cut of the film is not Lynch’s desired cut of the film, so, if and when said cut does see the light of day, I’ll be sure to revisit it in hopes that Lynch’s original vision is a better film, but unless it has a completely different ending and more potent jokes, I’m doubting it’ll be much of an improvement.
Knights of Badassdom comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Entertainment One, and is presented in a pleasing 2.40:1 1080p transfer that is crisp, heavy on detail, and very vibrant. The transfer handles the film’s darker sequences well, with balanced contrast and deep, rich blacks, with no sign of compression artifacts and minimal cinematic grain. The 5.1 DTS HD soundtrack is equally impressive, with robust bass, crystalline highs, and well-mixed environmental effects that fill the room quite nicely.
Bonus features are somewhat scant, offering a handful of short interview segments, as well as a lengthy 2012 Comic Con panel discussion.
Knights of Badassdom will no doubt appeal to Lynch’s Holliston audience and sensitive LARPer types, but those looking for the laugh-out-loud funny comedy that the premise allows for will be sorely disappointed. Entertainment One’s Blu-ray presentation is top-notch, but the less-than-compelling collection of bonus features limit this one’s replay value, and, if Lynch’s much-talked about director’s cut ever does see the light of day, we’ll be sure to get a much more feature-packed edition at that time. As it is, Knights of Badassdom is worth a rental, but it could have been so much more.