Let’s face it, nerds are popular. These days, movie tough guys like Vin Diesel fully embrace their participation in games like Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft; television shows like The Big Bang Theory are going strong; and superheroes constantly dominate the box-office. The Age of Geekdom has come, and all aspects of the culture are being explored. One area that remains mostly uncharted, however, is LARP (Live Action Role-Playing.) Director Joe Lynch and writers Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall expose the world to this deeply nerdy pastime in their horror-comedy Knight of Badassdom, which stars Ryan Kwanten, Steven Zahn, Peter Dinklage, and Summer Glau.
Joe (Ryan Kwanten) was all set to spend a night with his long-time girlfriend, Beth (Margarita Levieva), and present her with his newest doom-metal love song. However, when Beth dumps him he instead makes weekend plans to drink and write sappy power-ballads in his bedroom. Enter Joe’s roommates and best friends, Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage), who instead trick Joe into spending a weekend with them at their LARP event being run by an old high school acquaintance Ronny (Jimmi Simpson). Despite his downtrodden attitude, the boys convince Joe to try and have a good time, which isn’t too hard when Joe runs across the attractive Gwen (Summer Glau.) Sadly the swords and sorcery will not last long thanks to the ancient tome Eric bought off of eBay to use for his wizard character. While performing the spell in the game, Eric accidentally raises a succubus in the form of Beth, who begins feeding on the role-players. Now these weekend warriors/mages/rogues/wood-nymphs have stepped into a real battle against evil, and the time to be-ith badass is nigh.
With the major impact nerd culture has had in the past few years, it wasn’t going to be long before a movie like Knights of Badassdom showed up. By fusing the campy tropes of an 80s monster/slasher film with LARP, Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall’s screenplay offers up twice as many reasons for laughs. The movie gives nod to inspirations from the past, including an opening that is strongly influenced by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. The problem is the humor lacks depth. This does not mean the movie isn’t funny, it has plenty of great moments, but they are, despite one or two gems, less memorable. The film justifies the plot development, but there really isn’t much in the way of major character development. Joe is the too-cool and attractive member of the bunch, Eric is the socially awkward one, and Hung marches to the beat of his own drum. We’ve met all of these characters before, and despite their familiarity they remain popular. Knights of Badassdom does not require a lot of thought, but it isn’t trying to. If proof is needed, it’s in the title. What really helps sell a lot of the comedy in the film is the dedication of a majority of the film’s principle cast.
Sadly, this is not a role that asks a lot from Ryan Kwanten despite the skill he has shown in movies like Red Hill. His role as the straight man does not leave his character much room for excellence. While Kwanten’s role may not drive audiences to tears, the more outlandish characters and their actors are more fun and interesting. This film proves that Peter Dinklage commits 100% to any and every role he takes on. For this reason, he is a treat to watch every moment he is on screen. Steve Zahn, as well, has proven that comedy is his forte and is right at home in his role as Eric, the Level 26 summoner. Anyone who knows their work from TV knows that both Jimmi Simpson and Danny Pudi have made names for themselves as nerdy or awkward comedy actors. Simpson is perfect in his role as the overly obsessive and controlling alpha nerd. Sadly, Pudi doesn’t have enough screen-time to really be anything other than a rehashing of his role in Community. Finally, the least impressive performance came from Summer Glau. She doesn’t seem to give much effort in making her character anything more than the love interest. Effort is made for Gwen to be more than just attractive and available, but her performance is slow and uninteresting.
With the obvious love being shown to the splatter flicks of the 1980s, it is not clear whether the low-budget look that Knights of Badassdom is intentional or not. Either way it lends a lot to the feel of the film, playing on the campiness of low-budget effects against the backdrop of a low-to-no-budget role-playing game. There are times where it is obvious that the practical effects were handled with care, but other times where they seem to be quick attempts at gore, lazily edited around in order to be effective. Editing ends up being the weakest aspect of the film, often negatively highlighting the low-budget effects. Sam McCurdy’s cinematography and Bear McCreary’s music are among the best aspects of the film. McCurdy’s use of lighting in the nighttime scenes creates an eerie atmosphere, perfectly fitting of a genre outing. For McCreary, the 80’s rock/metal sound of the film’s score adds another layer to the fun and camp.
Knights of Badassdom is self-aware; both a love letter to horror comedies of the past, and a venture into a world even some nerds fear to tread into. While it is not a perfect film, Knights of Badassdom is more than capable of entertaining genre fans. Lightning bolt!