‘Knights of Badassdom’ Review: A Cultural Phenomenon Edited Down to a One-Note Joke

'Knights of Badassdom' Review: A Cultural Phenomenon Edited Down to a One-Note Joke

Producers reportedly took over director Joe Lynch's celebration of live-action roleplaying and reduced it to a repetitive punchline

Live action role playing (LARPing) may be a cultural phenomenon among geeks looking to live out the fantasies they read, watch and play, but the rest of the world look at it not unlike Paul Rudd at the beginning of “Role Models” – namely, as a sophomoric distraction designed to prolong adolescence.

Joe Lynch’s “Knights of Badassdom” does little to further its cause, but that may be because the producers took the film away from him, editing it down to a one-note joke and a whiff of a story that fails to offer a single reason – literal or metaphorical – why dressing up as a fictional character is enjoyable or rewarding.

Ryan Kwanten (HBO’s “True Blood”) plays Joe, a mechanic and sometime doom-metal musician whose girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva, TV’s “Revenge”) dumps him for not doing more with his Communications Studies degree. Retreating to the literal castle he lives in with his LARP-obsessed buddies Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage), Joe reluctantly agrees to join them for a weekend getaway where they don costumes and square off against other geeks under the watchful eye of game master Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson).

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KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOMBut after Ronnie demands that his teammates “bring Joe back to life” with a conjuring spell, Eric accidentally resuscitates a bona fide demon. Teaming up with a handful of misfits including Lando (Danny Pudi), Gunther (Tom Hopper) and Gunther’s comely cousin Gwen (Summer Glau), Joe soon finds himself facing off the otherworldly beast, which to complicate things further has disguised itself as Beth, his ex.

There are lots of great angles to approach LARPing from, particularly for audiences who are perhaps less sympathetic to twenty- and thirtysomething neckbeards who pepper their conversations with Anglo-Saxon language. It could be empowering where people feel victimized in reality. Formal and poetic where real life is casual and crude. A unique form of performance art. Or even just a desperate form of escapism from the routine of blue-collar responsibility.

“Badassdom” takes none of these, instead reducing the entirety of LARPing to one repetitive joke – self-serious old English, immediately undercut by anachronistic slang or some modern reference. Moreover, the movie barely even bothers to address the problems Joe’s confronted with at the beginning of the film – his heartbreaking split and his general irresponsibility – instead halfheartedly trying to assemble all of the best gags from a talented ensemble while maintaining the pretense of a story about a real demon and the phony magicians and warriors who must stop it.

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Particularly once the games begin, Kwanten feels like the “hero” only because he’s the most conventionally handsome, even though he’s by far the least interesting character. He’s got a remarkably naturalistic presence on screen, but his lack of magnetism isn’t his fault – it’s the script’s, which offers Joe no emotional substance, and nothing interesting to do. That the movie seems as content as Joe is for him to work as a mechanic and dream of a rock & roll career undermines Kwanten’s ability to make us care.

Meanwhile, the rest of the movie’s ideas feel like desperate homages/ ripoffs that someone got afraid of, legally speaking, at the last minute, such as an opening credits sequence designed to look this close to the prologue of “Evil Dead 2.”

All of which begs the question: What this movie was meant to be in the first place, even under Lynch’s auspices – a midnight movie? A tongue-in-cheek celebration of geek culture? Or something honest and genuinely affecting?

As the latter, and in this form, “Knights of Badassdom” is a complete failure. But quite frankly, for the producers to miss the target of either of the other two quite so broadly is shameful. Because when “Role Models” offers a more flattering portrait of LARPing – which it is literally always making fun of – it exposes this movie that’s actually about LARPing for what it is: a sophomoric distraction designed to prolong careers.

  • J McDougle

    Saw this in the theatre at a showing organized by a local LARP chapter. The crowd was having a great time with the movie, and I personally enjoyed it a lot. Frequent laughs, great acting, and a ridiculous premise really sold the movie for me. If you're looking for something deeper, like this review, then this probably isn't your thing. Nothing wrong with that. But if you're just looking for a FUN movie to watch with a group of friends, I'd definitely recommend it.

  • Charlat

    Agree with J Mc – I saw this in LA- the audience (and I) loved it and literally clapped and cheered at the end. I had fun and I think the rest if the people there did – judging by the reactions / I haven't been to a film recently where people actually cheered during the climax. Totally fun even if not critically acclaimed. Don't know how much deeper you can go with a comedy horror film.

  • http://summerglauwiki.com/ chrisdvanne

    Why do I have the feeling that online bloggers specialized in horror are 100% behind Joe Lynch and are as a matter of principle against a cut that is not Lynch's. I would not go as far as to claim there's a gag order but their – perfectly understandable – loyaulty to Joe Lynch lead me to believe they are prejudiced against the movie.

    Meanwhile, simple fans lured by the premise and the stellar cast genuinely enjoyed the movie and don't have the kind of expectations online bloggers seem to have.

  • Rygar

    My God, this reviewer's expecting Citizen Kane. Saw this in Cupertino with a roomful of diverse Larpers and the cheers were non stop. Clearly it resonated with the intended audience, what more could you want? File under: Ivory Tower Review.

  • Jim

    Why can't a movie be just FUN??? Steve Sahn is HILARIOUS in this and I enjoyed the hell out of it. This reviewer sounds like he went wanting to be disappointed, they should watch it again just to enjoy it instead of trying to think of ways to be snotty and diss it!

    -Jim

    • Spokanite

      I agree that Steve was pretty funny and he was the best thing in this movie. I attended the Spokane showing and people were enjoying themselves; HOWEVER, the end of the movie was just plain horrible no matter how you look at it. I was cringing in my seat; fighting a demon with music (horrible special effects demon to boot)?? Really? Yes, the movie had its good points but overall I would not recommend it.

  • JoAnne Kirley

    So in other words, taking the movie away from Joe to do a hack job on it maybe wasn't a wise move? I can see what this author means. And frankly, I'd rather they allowed Joe to do HIS cut instead. It's happened before..

  • Tierany Seriflame

    I respect this viewpoint and share the sentiments that I'd much rather see Joe Lynch's cut. We all do. However, as someone who worked on this movie, had a blast being an extra and waited 3.5 years to see that come to the screen, I loved it.
    We wanted to see Joe's vision come to life, and I think it's there somewhere, magnified by these excellent actors.
    We are one of two screenings down in Seattle and this first crowd was cheering the whole way through. I suppose it might have helped that we had a row full of us that had screen shots in the film and we were pleased to reminisce. I'm happy that we got to see something and will continue to hope that there is a directors cut one day.

  • Ben Farleigh

    As to your rotten tomatoes review, you are aware that ALL actors are – ”literally and metaphorically” – pretending to be a fictional character, right? jackass.