Article By: Dan Clark
Larpining (or Live Action Role Playing) is subcultural phenomenon that is continuing to gain notoriety. For some it is a way of life, while for others they are not sure what language the word Larpining originates from. Larpining has had some cinematic spotlight in the past including the documentary Darkon and probably most infamously in the Paul Rudd – Seann William Scott comedy Role Models. However, director Joe Lynch takes his film Knights of Badassdom in an entirely different direction.
Knights of Badassdom asks the question of what happens when you take real life pretend fantasy and add true demonic forces. Based on the premise and cast the potential is rich with uniqueness. This could easily be in the same vein as films like Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods, or Sean of the Dead that comment and expand on the specific tropes of their target genre. Some of those possibilities are realized but most are left unfulfilled. Its amalgamation of comedy, horror, and fantasy was not able to stay connected enough to have any form of considerable substance. The pieces were clearly in place for Knights of Badassdom, it simply could not make the necessary moves to come away with a legendary victory.
Viewing the cast list it appears as if they got someone from every quadrant of geek culture, like there was some sort of character actor draft where actors from today’s hottest niche shows were place into a pool for them to choose from. Actors like Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Danny Pudi (Community), Summer Glau (Arrow, Firefly), and even comedian Brian Posehn play some part in the film.
Most focus is placed on the characters played by by Steve Zahn and Ryan Kwanten. Zahn plays unquestionably the more likeable character of Eric, a Larping wizard with a flair for the theatrics. After his friend Joe (Kwanten) is dumped by his longtime girlfriend he vows to rescue him from the harrowing clutches of relationship misery. After a few stronger than expected bong hits Joe is forcefully brought back to the role playing world he long ago gave up on. Eric’s dedication to his friend and his craft causes him to take things a tad bit too far. In order to up his wizard game he equips himself with a mysterious book he bought off the scared shelves of Ebay. Unbeknownst to him the use of this book conjures up a demonic presence that is hungry for blood. This guild of weekend Larping warriors suddenly become engulfed in adventure full of actual danger.
The script becomes entangled into multiple competing storylines. Joe has his girlfriend woes, which are given an immediate elixir once Summer Glau appears on the scene as a fellow Larping companion. While that is occurring Eric is trying to finally prove his wizard might to the doubting Game Master, and as they say he should be careful for what he wishes for. The blunt of the focus is on Joe’s character, which is disappointing as he is the least interesting. He lacks a defined personality and has more of a reactionary persona. He is merely whatever the movie needs him to be at the specific moment.
In fact most of the cast is underused. Danny Pudi’s part is more of a glorified cameo rather than an actual role, Summer Glau is barely more than eye candy, and I think the only reason Brian Posehn was in the movie was because he accidentally walked on set one day. The one person who does stand tall above those disappointments was Peter Dinklage as the aggressively awesome Hung. He was a person who spared no qualms as he is ready, willing, and able to take up a blade (real or fake) to strike down his foes with great vengeance. His fast tracking training of the reluctant Joe allowed him to show off his impressive fighting technique. Dinklage played the role beautifully as he revealed in the world he was given to play in.
The topic of Larping does provide a lot of fodder material for easy jokes. Many of those jests are made and even though they are expected they are still implemented effectively. Having Larpers attempt to humiliate each other through diatribes spoken in old English provided for some intriguing dialog. Using well-placed slow motion to give a setting an epic feel only to quickly cutaway to reveal the sacred battlegrounds are in reality a parking lot—showed things were not being taken too seriously. Perhaps the best aspect of the humor was that it came from a place of genuine admiration rather than malice or mockery.
Tonality though was where it had its biggest complications as it struggled to handle the juggling of all its different elements. The comedy worked for the most part, but the supernatural aspect never felt like they had a place. The juxtaposition of Larpers facing off against true to life monster was a chaotic mess that was disappointing in its lack of excitement. The mixture of special and practical effects has that B-movie feel that are ideal for the subject matter, and the monster design has a touch of creativity that harkens back to classic 1980’s fantasy. Still, there is this continuous feeling of being unfulfilled that plagues most of the movie.
Knights of Badassdom wears it inspiration with pride. Joe Lynch is clearly a director who has a great admiration for this material. Passion does not always equate to grand success, and that is the case here. As a Larping newb I’m certain there are in-jokes and references that I am ignorantly missed throughout. For those who eat and breath this stuff this film may have a more lasting appeal, but for an outsider looking in I needed more than what I got for it to be a complete triumph.