“Knights of Badassdom”

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“Knights of Badassdom” is one of those films that will appeal to a certain audience, and deserves to find them. Mired in some controversy this film has been disowned by its director Joe Lynch, due to some launch delays and last minute studio re-edits. Lynch’s version apparently exists and has been seen by none other than Kurt Russell who lauds its achievements. How much was excised is unknown, but in the article I read Lynch specifically mentions a ten-minute ending that never made it into the shown version. He also referenced all blood and gore gutted save for that which was necessary to the the integrity of the studio’s more “mainstream friendly version.”
Films are a perilous artform. Writers craft a story and often turn it over to a director to bring it to life. A director is at the mercy of producers, the money, who, having ponied up the dough, want to have their say on how it is spent. This isn’t new or even unique to just film. The great Renaissance artists we laud like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, others like Picasso, basically anyone who ever had a work commissioned had constraints put on them. “I want a sculpture of this…” “A painting of this…” “I want this to be the subject…” “Make sure it makes me look good…” “It must represent me as a man of God…” “It must show me in a pious light…” “It must meet the standards of the Holy Sepulchre…” and so on, and so on.
Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” was just rescued and given new life in the “Nightbreed: Director’s Cut.” Director Tony Kaye has disowned “American History X” after star Edward Norton viciously recut the film to make his character seem more sympathetic. The list is endless of films ripped out of director’s hands and recut before either being unceremoniously dumped into the secondary market or released into theaters. With the market now filled with “Director’s Cuts,” “Extended Editions,” or like “Blade Runner” FIVE different cuts it is probably just a matter of time before Joe Lynch’s version sees light of day. For now, what we do have is a fun film heavy on silliness, light on gore, and a bit sketchy where the actual story of the demon comes in.
I found “Knights of Badassdom” to be highly enjoyable. Joe (Ryan Kwaten, “True Blood”) is a mechanic and Doom Metal singer/song-writer. I’m not quite sure what his girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva, “Revenge”) actually does. When Beth dumps him on the eve of an apparent proposal Joe goes from Doom metal to power ballad purveyor in the course of three sips of Wild Turkey. What are his best friend Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”) supposed to do? What any great friends would do, drug him, dress in him a suit of armor, and kidnap him to their LARP event (Live Action Role Play). Forced to choose between moping at home alone or moping at LARP, where Gwen (Summer Glau, “Firefly) and her cousin Gunther (Brett Gipson) are, Joe chooses to mope at the LARP event.
In the course of “summoning” Joe to the LARP event Eric uses an ancient book of evil and unwittingly summons a real demon who takes on the form of Joe’s ex-girlfriend Beth, who then proceeds to feast her way through LARP stragglers. Thus the stage is set: hundreds of people gathered, trained, and decked out for combat, yet armed with only foam weaponry beset by an actual demon. This is actually a great idea for a horror-comedy film.
The Beth-succubus moves tangentially in and out of the story, however, until the climax and picks off this straggler and then that one. She comes into contact with our main characters in one scene to set the stage for the climax, but otherwise she feels rather wasted and I believe that this is where the studio cuts hurt the film the most. She comes across as nothing more than a premise, something never developed, a one-line pitch.
What is interesting and humorous about “Knights of Badassdom” are the characters and the various layers of adherence to the world of LARP. Gunther is all-in, never out and then Hung, the shroomed out friend who along with Eric and Joe live in an actual castle know all the lingo, have great real gear on the side, and truly enjoy the world of LARP, but enjoy for it being an escape from the real world. Joe, who is reluctantly dragged in, and Gwen openly supports her cousin and does so willingly and completely in the game, yet is more than happy to be away from it when the game isn’t going.
Much of the best comedy comes from the collision of the real with the imagined world of LARP, the fantasy of gushing waterfalls, and swamps, of great camps, when their reality is fantastically parking lots, water basins and so forth. Also the collision of LARP fantasy with the real danger of a demon provides great moments as well, most of them during a fun climax that feels like it is missing something for all its greatness.
While “Knights of Badassdom” is great fun, the cast pull the narrative through some brutal editing, and the beastie at the end is so much fun I always felt like something was missing, now I know why. As much as I enjoy and love this version of the film I can’t wait until I get to see Joe Lynch’s version, I can’t help but feel that it will be infinitely better and bring all the parts together. Until such time though this is what we have and it’s pretty damn fun. LARP, rampaging demon, angry redneck paintballers, reluctant Doom metal singer with a broken heart…there’s a lot to like here. For now, just go for the ride with Joebreyth and friends, it is a silly one and one with much grander aspirations.

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