Knights of Badassdom’s journey to the screen has been one rife with delays and, ultimately, a creative clash. The film hitting select screens this week is not the director’s vision – let me put that up front. Instead, the film was re-cut by its financiers to, perhaps, reach a broader audience. With that in mind, it’s difficult entering into a screening knowing the director had not signed off on what you’re about to see. All you can do is take it for what it is and assess what’s there.
And what’s there is a half-cooked horror-comedy. A vision that hasn’t reached its full potential. The teasing of few chords to an incomplete metal ballad. There are parts of Knights of Badassdom that work, and I like to think that’s director Joe Lynch, grinning and waving at us like the maniac he is from behind the curtain (if you’ve seen the gore-crazy Wrong Turn 2 and his contributions to Chillerama, I think “maniac” is a damn good way to describe Lynch). And there are parts that are bafflingly clunky and just a mess.
Beating at Knights of Badassdom’s core is a good ol’ fashioned ‘80s break-up comedy as it concerns a dude (in this case Ryan Kwanten’s “Joe”) – who works in a garage and serves as the frontman for a metal band – weakened by heartache after his lady leaves him. His pals (Steve Zahn’s “Eric” and Peter Dinklage’s “Hung”) come to his aid, pulling him out of self-defeat with booze, weed and a LARPing excursion in the woods. There, Eric reads from a spellbook and inadvertently summons evil. And guess what? Joe is forced to regain his confidence to fight the powers of darkness.It’s a classic formula and it gets about “halfway there” in landing Joe’s arc. The film attempts to throw in a new love interest (naturally) with Summer Glau’s Gwen, but the chemistry is weak. In fact, the film’s focus on Joe buckles a bit under the weight of the other cast members (Zahn, Dinklage, Jimmi Simpson, Danny Pudi, Brett Gipson) who are all chewing the scenery leaving Joe to become a supporting player.
Amid the film’s silliness of Joe’s journey and the drama of the LARPing event, the film also serves as an Evil Dead-esque creature romp you would discover on VHS, but again, it only goes “halfway there.” The CGI looks incomplete and the gore (which I presume was there originally, given Lynch’s track record) is viciously neutered. Granted, there are a few choice practical FX shots (again, some looking incomplete) but we mostly get cut-aways or we see the end result of a painful, gooey death.
All of this culminates in a third act which can best be described as sloppy and, I’m assuming, is where the film was messed around with the most. There’s a giant practical creature creation stomping about that is quite effective and cool and the movie doesn’t know how to handle it. There's also a lot of focus on two characters we never spent all the much time with, but nearly every funny moment rests on their shoulders. To add insult to injury, the movie just ends generically trying to tie up loose ends in the worst way possible.
The Knights of Badassdom that is being unleashed on the world this week is bad. Not a complete atrocity – well, maybe that finale is – but it’s bad. You can see the “good” trying to fight through, especially in the film’s first half, especially in Dinklage’s goofy performance and especially in the energy brought to the story. It’s like trying to listen to High on Fire, until some jerk pulls up in his car with his windows rolled down and he’s got Papa Roach blasting through the speakers on KROQ. It’s aggravating.
Here’s to hoping a director’s cut will surface.