Introducing ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,’ the lavish hyperkinetic fairy tale that kicked off SXSW tonight, the film’s co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein told the audience that they crafted the film to appeal to hardcore D&D gamers – and also those who know absolutely nothing about the game. I know so little that I can’t even find a proper D&D reference to shoot this shot with.

The filmmakers were honest. “Honor Among Thieves” is built on the edifice of D&D lore, filled with totems and characters and Easter eggs that fans of the legendary role-playing game will drink to connoisseur delight. But for those, like me, who have spent a lifetime avoiding anything Dungeons & Dragons to do, the film is eminently understandable and, in its you-have-seen-it-before-but-not-everything style -made-so, lots of fun.

The game, which has been around for 49 years, was ahead of its time in the way it anticipated our collective immersion in mystical adventure fantasy and the intensity of role-playing that came with it. Back in the ’70s, D&D resembled Comic-Con as a tabletop game – an abstract geek-brainiac take on cosplay. The film turns the tables, presenting itself as an homage to all films that, in hindsight, can be seen as a glimmer in the eye of Dungeons & Dragons; it also draws from the fantasy worlds the game itself drew inspiration from. “Honor Among Thieves” is like a mix of “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Princess Bride”, “Star Wars”, “National Treasure”, a medieval “X-Men”… and “Gladiator”! It’s both corny and charming, synthetic and spectacular, comfortably derivative and exuberantly inventive, a transformed piece of junk culture joy that, in the end, may bring tears to your eyes.

It’s set in a hit FX version of the Middle Ages, but Chris Pine, acting with the anachronistic contemporary Bogart-meets-Don-Johnson-like-grey-yuppie charisma that made him so perfect as Captain James T. Kirk, grounds the film in something loose and aggressive. He plays Edgin Darvis, a fallen member of the Harpers – think of them as secret knights – who is a thief, a liar and a thug, but with a valiant heart. Edgin’s wife was murdered, leaving him to raise their young daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), which he did with the help of his fellow student, Holga, a bloated, tattooed barbarian played by Michelle Rodriguez with a gruff, tough tendon.

Kira, however, has fallen under the spell of Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant, voraciously chewing every line), a villain who rules over a walled city, and has convinced Kira that he can be a better father to her than her own deceitful father. . . Edgin wants to put his family back together, and if he can get his hands on the revival tablet, he will have the ability to bring his wife back to life and restore all that was lost. But the tablet is locked away in a city vault, and he must find the Disjunction Helmet – which can stop time – to do so. are you with me?

“Honor Among Thieves” continues to introduce rules and gambits that fit together in nice logic but, more often than not, turn out to be MacGuffins. Still, they do their job – they seduce us, for a few scenes, into making us feel like they matter, how the film is only too happy to move on. Daley and Goldstein work with a precision that satisfies our inner megaplex classicist, but it’s part of the film’s design that he keeps throwing things at us.

As Edgin forms camaraderie with such offbeat characters as insecure wizard Simon (Justice Smith) and shape-shifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), “Honor Among Thieves” becomes a magical action flick with such a chubby dragon the characters make a joke out of it, an undead cult of red wizards who direct their minions with billows of crimson smoke like something out of “The Wizard of Oz,” and a scene of macabre cheekiness that appeals to the crowd in which old gray skeletal corpses are raised from the dead so they can be asked five questions, at which point they fall back into oblivion. The dialogue in a scene like this has an early snap. The screenplay is by Daley, Goldstein and Michael Gilio, who invest every encounter – even if it’s with a corpse – with an ego load.

That said, there’s enough snark and visual zap on screen that we might feel like we’re gorging ourselves on candy corn and hungry for something a little more soulful. It happens, in the person of Régé-Jean Page, who introduces himself as Yendar, who is noble in such an old-fashioned stoic corn-dog way (he can’t process the irony, much less a phrase like “son- de-a bitch”) that he gives the film the note of romantic value that we want. ace of comedy: Yendar the man too suavely heroic to crack a joke, Edgin the one who cracks a joke of everything, including The Nobility of Yendar.

It is Yendar who leads them to the imposing stone catacomb where the Helmet of Disjunction is located. There’s a terrific sequence in which he recites the elaborate rules for walking on a stone bridge, which stick out the window just as Simon missteps. But then Simon – which is exactly how the movie plays out – manages to pull out a magic cane that creates a portal that you can walk through 500 feet away. Cool!

There’s a complexity to the staging of “Honor Among Thieves” that helps balance the plot’s rollercoaster-derived character. We go there, even if we know that we are stuffing ourselves with a succulent overdose of fantastic dessert. Gladiator battle inside a climactic maze is sensationally well done, from the Venus-flytrap tentacled panther to the treasure chests to the giant Jell-O cubes that help save the day . The monster at the end? For me, he was one demon too many. But whatever. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” should be a big hit, because it knows how to tap into our nostalgia – not just for one game, but for all the fantasy culture it helped spawn. It is the film itself that plays a role.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

sixteen − thirteen =