Knights of Badassdom

by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

EXPECTATIONS: Knights of Badassdom is a movie I've had my eye on for a while now. In 2010, it was a fairly big piece of geek culture looming on the horizon. Then it unceremoniously disappeared, blinked out of existence by what must have been a collective moment of clarity. Well, it's finally here and it looks every bit like the nerd bait I had feared it was. I know I've beaten this drum before, but in a world that has already produced Role Models, the ur-text of Live-Action Role Play on film, I can't possibly imagine what else movies have to teach us about it.

REALITY: A little ironic detachment goes a long way in making a subject like LARPing accessible to outsiders. Ironic or not, though, Knight of Badassdom is undoubtedly the most punchable movie of the decade. Even beyond the film's vaguely self-effacing sense of humor, Knights is mean-spirited, misogynistic and completely lacking in subtlety or wit. In other words, it's a dumb, bad nerd thing for nerds who will eat it up because they're nerds.

No, I don't know what I'm doing here either.After his girlfriend dumps him for having no ambition, mechanic and part-time doom metal singer Joe (Ryan Kwanten) retreats to the solace of his two roommates, "accidental millionaires" who live in a castle. Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage) convince Joe that the only way to get over a tough breakup is to get completely wasted and wake up in full regalia on the LARPing battlefield. When shitbag gamemaster Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson) forces Eric to cast a spell on Joe from his mysterious book of spells, the book turns out to be real and Eric accidentally summons a succubus in the form of Joe's ex. Our de facto heroes must stop the succubus before she slaughters every LARPer in a two-mile radius, because apparently all a succubus does is murder people with no rhyme or reason.

Right away, Knights manages to fail the Burt Wonderstone test with flying colors, as I've just taken you through all the major beats of the plot without introducing you to Gwen (Summer Glau). Gwen is the only woman in the film that actually registers as a character and not a punching bag or lesbian makeout device. The film shoves her into the role of Joe's teammate and love interest, because what's a nerd film without a little wish fulfillment? She's given a more reasonable backstory than most here, which is nice, but not before someone comments on her ass having +3 battle stats.

It's becoming clear that this movie might have a problem with women. By the time Joe has to literally kill his demon-ex with the power of heavy metal rocking and bros-before-hos attitude, the film has pretty much given up on having anything meaningful to say about the role of women in geek culture. That really shouldn't come as a surprise, but somehow it does. You'd think that at this point in the internet we'd have figured some of this stuff out. One could argue that this was written back in 2010, which was practically a generation ago in internet time, but that's really no excuse. Archie Bunker can get away with it. Steve Zahn the Ladymancer cannot.

I'll tell you one thing, though, Knights certainly knows its audience. The musical score is your standard epic fantasy knockoff tacked out on a Casio keyboard, but it's littered with riffs stolen straight from Lord of the Rings. And whenever Peter Dinklage is onscreen, the film keeps finding ways to remind us of Game of Thrones. Those are all the cultural references the film can muster (aside from some really weak nods to the Evil Dead trilogy), choosing instead to load up on situational LARPing humor.

Try this game: when you go to the next page, see if you still care about this image.

Characters fall all over themselves to spit out faux-Shakesperean dialogue, which is every bit as eye-rollingly grating as it is in real life. Subtitles periodically translate this into normal human speech, which would actually be a funny conceit if the film had bothered to sustain the joke. Just as easily, though, characters get tired of the act and drop it in favor of an endless stream of swearing. That's about as close to real-life as Knights ever comes.

Verisimilitude really is the keyword here. The film maintains a level of reality in which condiment bottles double as paperweights and cartographers of the realm have no clue how to actually draw maps, but I don't buy for a second that any of these characters are actually invested in their LARP. It doesn't help that Joe has never done this before. He needs the rules explained to him so that the film can explain the game to outsiders, but that also means he's allowed to break the rules because he doesn't actually know them. Film Hero Joe doesn't care, so why should Film Crit Joe care?

I could go on about the sillier elements of the film, like the succubus' final form looking like something out of a Tenacious D fan film. Ultimately, though, Knights of Badassdom is the cinematic equivalent of the blind leading the blind. It's too in love with itself to poke too hard at the people it's portraying, and it's not ambitious enough to commit to its own fantasy/horror premise.

Horror+1
Humor+2
Verisimilitude+4
Lady Troubles-2
Steve ZahnWhat the Hell Happened to You?
Overall+5/50

MINORITY REPORT: I don't really see the appeal of LARPing. Isn't that just daily life? Pretending to be a functioning, normal adult human on a daily basis? No? Just me? - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison

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