New ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ flick is a mess — and worst of all, not funny

This is a movie that kinda seems to be embarrassed by its own nerdery

Apr 10, 2023 at 10:51 am
click to enlarge Justice Smith plays Simon, Chris Pine plays Edgin, Sophia Lillis plays Doric, and Michelle Rodriguez plays Holga in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. - Aidan Monaghan, Paramount Pictures
Aidan Monaghan, Paramount Pictures
Justice Smith plays Simon, Chris Pine plays Edgin, Sophia Lillis plays Doric, and Michelle Rodriguez plays Holga in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

Twenty-three years ago, there was a Dungeons & Dragons movie that wasn’t intended as a comedy but was so bad it was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t review it. I don’t even remember much about it except the experience: I have vivid memories of sitting in that multiplex guffawing nonstop — nonstop, I tell you — with my geek gang. We still talk about it to this day, with awe. It was a genuine bonding experience, like going to war together.

Now we have another attempt at adapting for the big screen *checks notes* a nebulous set of loosey-goosey rules for a participatory storytelling game played with pencil and paper and dice. If that sounds like I’m putting down Dungeons & Dragons the game: no way. I’ve played it. I’ve been a DM. I love it. But slapping the D&D brand on a high-fantasy action-adventure movie can never be anything but the most crass exercise in monetizing a preexisting intellectual property... and the bar on that is, well, in the lowest levels of the dungeon, given the state of Hollywood these days. It makes even less sense than videogame adaptations, which almost always feel like you’re looking over the shoulder of someone else playing the game. But at least the game-movie you’re just an onlooker to is probably somewhat recognizable and familiar. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is like sitting off to the side watching your friends play a D&D campaign that isn’t particularly inventive or imaginative and that you have no previous investment in or appreciation for.

So a D&D movie can be pretty much anything or anything, as long as it’s high fantasy. Directors and writers (with Michael Gilio) John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein went with high-fantasy comedy, and landed somewhere in between their previous two movies, the outrageously brilliant Game Night and the embarrassingly awful Vacation reboot. But the way the comedy plays out here? A lot of tedious slapstick and obvious punchlines you scry the instant a wannabe medieval wag opens their mouth. It makes me think of Brad Pitt’s Rusty in Ocean’s Eleven giving Matt Damon’s Linus tips for passing as something you’re not when you’re trying to con an unsuspecting rube. The key piece of advice: “Be funny, but don’t make ’em laugh.”

Ladies and germs, I give you: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Which thinks it’s funny but didn’t make me laugh. Not even once.

w Otherwise, sure: there’s an adventuring band here that ticks all the D&D boxes. There’s a thief-bard in Chris Pine’s Edgin (though he doesn’t bard much; I feel like a fuckton more humor could have been mined from that aspect of his character). There’s his bestie buddy in Michelle Rodriguez’s badass warrior Holga. There’s a low-level mage (Justice Smith) and a vaguely defined shape-shifter (Sophia Lillis) and a paladin (and, like, why would you cast Bridgerton hottie Regé-Jean Page and have him in the movie this little?). They’re all on a quest to find a magical whatzit macguffin to revive Edgin’s dead wife. (Fuck, seriously? The dead-wife trope again? Thanks, I hate it. In a genre that is allegedly all about flights of imagination, how the fuck are men so unimaginative?) The stuff of comedy, amirite? *huge sigh*

There’s a lot of running around killing fantastical evil creatures. There’s a generic bad human character (Hugh Grant, fully embracing the no-fucks-left-to-give segment of his career, which I applaud, and I hope he was wildly overpaid for this). It’s all borderline incoherent, with ambitions — failed ones — to be as sentimental as it is amusing, sketched in cheap-looking CGI. Then go pull a plot contrivance out of your bag of holding, why not?

I, profoundly proud to be an enormous dork, was utterly unimpressed. Not least because this is a movie that kinda seems to be embarrassed by its own nerdery.

Imma go watch The Princess Bride again…

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