It’s hard to imagine a movie getting closer to the platonic ideal of nerdity than Knights of Badassdom. It’s about live action role-playing (LARPing). It’s got Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage, *Community’*s Dany Pudi, *Firefly’*s Summer Glau, and a succubus. It ruled Hall H at Comic-Con International (which is like being the halftime show at the Super Bowl, if people watching the Super Bowl not only cared, but regularly freaked out about the halftime show). It almost sounds too good to be true; in fact, after waiting more than two years for its release, some of us were starting to think it had all been a dream. But now it’s finally here—it’s on VOD starting this week, with a theatrical run ongoing.
Well, it’s not bad, but it’s not what it could have been. Which isn’t surprising, given the circuitous path it took to our screens.
Knights tells the epic quest of two LARPing friends—Eric, a guy “about to level-up to grand sorcerer” (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Dinklage)—who seek to cheer up their recently-dumped friend Joe (True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten) by whisking him off to a LARP in a campsite dressed up as the fields of Evermore. While Joe was once a Dungeons & Dragons legend who gave a competitor’s paladin “demonic syphilis,” he’s since left the fantasy realm and become a mechanic and doom-metal singer; the last thing he wants to do to get over his ex-girlfriend is play with swords in the woods, but after his pals get him drunk and stoned and kidnap him in their van, he has little choice.
However, he finally starts to get down with the LARP—or at least with the company of the sword-wielding Gwen (Glau)—and that’s when things get weird. Very weird. (Thankfully, good weird.) Using an old book of spells acquired from the internet, Eric accidentally summons a succubus, who immediately goes on a murderous rampage. (It also looks like straight out of an ’80s B-movie or issue of Heavy Metal, so bonus points for that.)
From there, Knights goes from a parade of talk-nerdy-to-me jokes to a little-guys-save-the-day action-horror flick. If you get the jokes—or know enough about geek subcultures to laugh at them—it’s totally worth a stream. (I caught an early screening for audiences who had campaigned to bring it to their town, and there plenty of laughs and hoots of approval.) If a joke about friction between dragon-slaying LARPers and vampire LARPers isn’t your jam, you may want to steer clear; while LARP is a subculture that doesn’t get many good cinematic moments, it can be a head-scratcher for those who don’t know much about it.
Dinklage, as always, is a highlight. His character is high on ‘shrooms for half the movie, and thanks to his work as Tyrion Lannister, no one knows more about sauntering around a kingdom than Peter Dinklage. Yet, despite some legitimately hilarious performances (extra shouts to Danny Pudi and Jimmi Simpson) and a sweet LARPer-friendly story, Knights has its moments of clumsiness. Its tonal shifts are often abrupt, jumping between comedy and horror, and occasionally loses its footing.
That editing is the movie’s fatal flaw comes as little surprise, as the question exactly who was making the movie was the very thing that’s kept the movie out of theaters for two years. Last winter—nearly two years after the movie made a huge splash at Comic-Con—word spread online that there was going to be a screening of the film for potential buyers who could distribute it. A website at Badassdom.com (since taken down) appeared, purporting to come from some of the film’s investors, claiming that the version being screened was not director Joe Lynch’s version and that Wade Bradley, the CEO of the film’s production company IndieVest Pictures was behind the new cut being shown. The film eventually sold to a company called Entertainment One; that version, presumably, is the one now available—hand the one that the The Wrap called “a cultural phenomenon edited down to a one-note joke.”
If you’re looking for clarity, the original director can’t provide it. “Unfortunately I can’t comment on that version of the movie at this time out of respect for eOne, the distributor, and the many passionate artists on the cast and crew who worked so hard on the film,” wrote Lynch in an email to WIRED. “But if you have any creative questions on that edit, feel free to contact Wade Bradley at IndieVest. Until Evermore…” After we attempted to reach Bradley via email, IndieVest’s legal council sent a statement saying that Badassdom.com site espoused “completely false” claims, that “the actual events were far less salacious,” and that while some producers were removed and a new producer and editorial team was brought on, Lynch was involved with that process and “the director was never fired, nor was the film taken from him.”
It’s all a little inside-baseball, to be honest. Edits happen—and at least Knights is finally seeing the light of day after more than two years in post-production hell. LARPers should take heart that their love letter is actually watchable; after all, more than one noble film has been felled on a battlefield that’s far more dangerous than Nevermore. It’s called Hollywood.