Review: ‘Knights of Badassdom’ (needn’t IS a word here)

Fans of tabletop gaming, live-action roleplay, and Tucker & Dale fans will find much to love herein.

Deep in the woods after midnight, chanting figures in cloaks surround a man about to be impaled with a gleaming dagger… just before a group of trigger-happy jocks with paintball guns start shooting up the place. Is this some kind of time travel epic? A cult being thwarted by local weekend warriors? Nope – it’s just the Knights of Badassdom, a story about LARPers: live-action roleplayers. After being dumped by his girlfriend, rockstar-wannabe Joe (Ryan Kwanten) gets drunk out of his mind – a trick to drag him out to a state park dressed up (poorly) in a magical kingdom of warriors, wizards, and other fantasy types. With his friends Eric the Wizard (Steve Zahn) and Sir Hung (Peter Dinklage), their weekend of pretend swordplay and hard-won experience points is about to be hijacked by an actual succubus from Hell who has taken the form of Joe’s ex, Beth (Margarita Levieva). Maybe we shouldn’t read actual spells from a book of demon summoning, huh, Eric?

Warning: this film is NOT for everyone. It’s for people with imagination, the kind of folks who enjoy spending their weekends outside adventuring with fellow enthusiasts and dressing up to embody something they can’t be in real life. Sure, there are plenty of personality types in these organizations who conflict with one another, but it’s all in the name of fun, a Renaissance festival with regulated live combat. Indoctrinated viewers will recognize the Medievalish-sounding dialog, the struggle to keep real-life issues out of in-game play, and the occasional lack of integrity when your character might have been killed. Put all that into a ridiculous but deadly situation and it becomes clear who the real heroes are when the mortality rate and weapons are real.

For a budget adventure-horror film, the filmmakers squeezed a lot out of their too-few dollars. Ryan Kwanten (Jason on “True Blood”), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion on “Game of Thrones”), character actor Steve Zahn, and Summer Glau (“Firefly,” “Sarah Conner Chronicles”) all underwent a LARP boot camp to learn the rules; filmmakers credited Dinklage for being the exemplary LARP warrior who took to combat instantly. For authenticity, actual LARPers were at the ready as extras and on-set advisers keeping it all real. When the happy adventuring takes a deadly turn, the blood flows freely with both practical and computer special effects – including a practically built king-size boss monster instead of a tracking marker on top of a green stick. The situation is impossible and the resolution is silly, but the cast plays it straight and manages to get away with it.

Movie-going audiences should appreciate this kind of guerrilla filmmaking, the short-shoot low-budget type of feature that rests in the hands of a clever script and a cast who is in on the joke. As an added feature, subtitles periodically appear translating “game speak” and identifying key fictional locations in all their imagined grander. Don’t look for award-winning performances here, just actors having fun with a brilliant premise. A little more money might have taken things further, but the story lends itself to low-cost dragon-slaying, and anything that looks too good just wouldn’t feel as real. Huzzah!

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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