I’m going to go ahead and make the presumption that a large portion of the audience isn’t going to have a clue as to what “LARPing” is. You are not the audience for this movie. That’s especially true if, once I describe to you what it is, you think the concept sounds silly, stupid, or s…ridiculous. LARPing stands for “live action roleplaying,” which typically involves people dressing up in full costume and going into a forest to fight either other LARPers or imaginary creatures. It’s like if you were playing Dungeons & Dragons, but instead of rolling dice you’re actually acting out your character’s actions.
This is a real thing, and is apparently not altogether an unpopular activity — at least, among its participants. The film takes place primarily in the middle of one of those LARP sessions. It does not mock the activity. It is a sincere film. It has some funny moments for anyone, but a lot of the jokes will only really work if you have the same affection for LARPing that it does. This is why I opened the way I did. You have to either be in, or have some sort of love for, this particular culture if you’re going to enjoy this film. It’s a very niche property, which is likely one of the reasons it spent years in “post-production.”
Joe (Ryan Kwanten) has recently ended a relationship with his girlfriend (Margarita Levieva), because she claimed that he’s never going anywhere in life. He lives with his best friends, Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage), in a million-dollar mansion, as one of them comes from money and doesn’t have to work. I can’t remember which one it was.
In order to cheer Joe up, Eric and Hung decide to drug him and take him to one of their LARP sessions. He’s reluctant, but given that he only wakes up after they’re pretty much there, he doesn’t have much choice. The guys have a book one of them bought off eBay, but as it turns out, it’s a real magic book. A spell is cast, and now there’s a real demon wandering around the forest. Have fun.
That’s the setup and basically the entire movie. There is a lot of death — nobody is safe, which I found surprising — and eventually the heroes, who are joined by Summer Glau, have to try to defeat a demon who has been unleashed from Hell. The LARP session has become real. This is a clever premise and essentially acts as justification for the activity as well as presenting it in the best light possible. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a film about LARPing that has been released in theaters — although I’m sure there are fan films out there — and this might actually get some people interested in it. Before the supernatural elements, it seemed very authentic to how these things work.
Knights of Badassdom is not particularly funny, action-packed, dramatic, or anything, really. It’s moderately clever and up to a point feels realistic, but that’s about it. I’m indifferent to LARPing, so I wasn’t going to find it that funny. Most people, I can only assume, are going to be in a similar position. I’ve heard it’s one of those “… until you try it” activities. And most people won’t have tried it.
But even outside of that, there isn’t a lot to hold interest. There’s far more walking around the forest, talking about things that aren’t of much interest, than there are action scenes. What action we do get looks so low-budget that you sometimes wonder if this is just a fan film. The practical effects are far better than the computer-aided ones. The goofy, man-in-a-suit, monster at the end at least has the benefit of being there.
The screenplay gives us a lot of character exposition at the start and then nothing much for the rest. The result is a film that starts slow and then never has its characters grow. The whole point is so that Joe can move on from the girl who dumped him — the demon takes the form of his ex for a long stretch — but that barely even comes up. Knights of Badassdom works as a LARP endorsement but not so much as a feature film. It’s so lacking in everything that a film like this needs. By this logic I proclaim that it’s destined to become a cult classic.
This is a movie that wouldn’t work at all if its leads didn’t buy in wholeheartedly. Thankfully, they do. Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, and Summer Glau all seem to have a genuine love of LARPing — whether they do or not, they give that appearance; that’s why it’s called “acting” — and the whole production would become a joke if they didn’t. That’s as deep as the performances go but it’s important that they seem like they care.
If you are a LARPer, or have been looking into the activity, Knights of Badassdom might just resonate enough with you to be worth a watch. You’ll be able to overlook its predictability, lack of jokes, poor action, terrible special effects, and non-existent characters. If you’re indifferent or opposed to LARPing, the film will be a dull slog. Given that there’s nothing else about the activity, I’m sure it will find its audience. That audience will be very niche and I can’t say I’m among them. It’s has too many problems that I couldn’t ignore.