Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Guess what? ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ isn’t bad


   Any review of a movie with Dungeons & Dragons in its title should begin with a personal statement about the famous game. Here's mine: I couldn't care less about a role-play game that has captivated so many since its release in 1974.
  After reading that a second Dungeons & Dragons movie was on the horizon (the first was released in 2000), I wondered whether the game still could command interest.
  Or maybe it was me. Maybe I was out of touch; maybe Dungeons & Dragons hadn't become a pop-cultural relic.
  Judging by the audience at a preview screening of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, the game still has plenty of devotees, the kind who show up at screenings wearing costumes and who are well attuned to the intricacies of D&D. 
  OK, that's my confession. Dungeons mania aside, a movie should, like a mythological dragon, breathe its own fire. That's how I approached Honor Among Thieves. 
   I can't say I loved every minute of Honor Among Thieves, but I found myself watching a reasonably entertaining movie that features a well-cast Chris Pine in a lead role and gives him Michelle Rodriguez as a tough sidekick and Hugh Grant as a villainous foe. 
   The rest of the cast proves equally able. Sophia Willis augments the team as a shapeshifter with a very useful set of skills. Justice Smith portrays Simon, an endearing sorcerer who has yet to develop full confidence in his conjuring powers.
   The plot begins with Pine's Edgin and Rodriguez's Holga escaping from prison where they're serving time for theft. Edgin wants to reunite with his young daughter (Chloe Coleman), a girl who has fallen under the sway of Grant's Forge Fitzwilliam, once a member of the felonious gang to which Edgin and Holga belong.
   An aggressively amiable chiseler, Forge tries to convince Coleman's Kira that he has her best interests at heart. Edgin is a self-centered thief who has no genuine concern for his daughter. Why else would he leave her in Forge's care? So goes Forge's spin on the story.
   But what of Kira's mom? Oops. I mean her late mom.
   Edgin’s to-do list includes another item: He wants to revive his deceased wife (Georgia Landers), a task that requires possession of the Tablet of Reawakening. Good luck finding that, not to mention a helmet that has its own important powers.
   The world Dungeons creates includes a lot more complexities but there's no point turning a review into an annotated glossary of Dungeons lore, which I couldn't do anyway.
   Know, though, that a character called Xenk (Rege-Jean Page) eventually joins the group. Sincere and literal to a fault, Xenk can't  understand irony, a trait the movie rightly plays for laughs. In the end, the joke's on us, though. Xenk proves a worthy fellow.
   The screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, and Michael Gilio presents its characters with an on-going series of challenges, some accompanied by nice effects work and action that’s neatly staged by co-directors Goldstein and Daley.
  Honor Among Thieves probably isn't destined to make my top-10 list of 2023 movies, but much its two-hour and 14 minutes passed easily. Besides, the actors, notably Pine and Rodriguez, gave the movie enough heart, grit and humor, to ward off negative vibes.
   What else can you ask from a movie that takes its cue from a game that's nearly 50 years old?

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