A Game Dungeons & Dragons Casts a Winning Spell
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a lot of fun. It’s a little on the longish side and takes a few moments to hit its stride. But once it does, this inventively silly fantasy adventure from directors and co-writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein overflows in thrills, chills, and laughs galore. I liked it a lot.
Not that I should be surprised. Even if the source material has never lent itself to narrative adaptation (while I do have a soft spot in my heart for the 1980s animated series, the less said about 2000’s live-action Dungeons & Dragons the better), Daley and Goldstein are, after all, the minds behind 2018’s spectacularly funny Game Night, one of the better comedies of the 21st century. They’re now two-for-two in my book (I’m choosing to forget 2015’s unfortunate Vacation legacy sequel ever happened), and I cannot wait to see what the pair conjure up next.
After charming minstrel-thief Edgin (Chris Pine) and his potato-loving professional-warrior partner Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) escape from prison, they immediately set out to reunite the former with his whip-smart daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), who’s been living with their former partner, gregarious second-rate conman Forge (Hugh Grant). Aided in no small part by the sorceress Sofina (Daisy Head), Forge has somehow gone from being one of the kingdom’s most wanted to the trusted leader of a rich and powerful city, and he has no intention of returning Kira to her father. In fact, he has gone out of his way to convince the young girl that Edgin outright abandoned her.
This will not do. Smelling something insidious, Edgin and Holga search out another old friend, the bumbling wizard Simon (Justice Smith), and through him form an alliance with half-elf druid shapeshifter Doric (Sophia Lillis). They all agree Forge is up to something horrible, and likely working on a grift that will leave him holding all of his kingdom’s treasures.
But they could not imagine what is really going on. There is true evil afoot, and circumstances being what they are, it turns out that Edgin, Holga, Xenk, and Doric are the only ones available to save the day.
What follows are a series of goofy “mini-quests” in which this band of slightly inept heroes have to get answers to insoluble questions and learn the whereabouts of magical McGuffins, most of which ultimately won’t be of much help once the final showdown with the mysterious “big bad” pulling all the strings commences. There’s a spectacular extended bit straight out of Monty Python, in which the gang has to literally interrogate the dead, while a later reverse-heist involving placing an enchanted object inside a moving, heavily guarded treasure wagon is as ridiculous as it is exhilarating.
As ingeniously staged as the majority of the action set pieces are (save one brief underground face-off between a selfless mystical warrior — handsomely portrayed by Regé-Jean Page — and a cadre of undead assassins, which goes nowhere), it’s the emphasis on the characters that makes this loopy yarn work so well. Grant, Coleman, Rodriguez, Smith, and Lillis are all wonderful, and the script makes sure to give each their fair share of memorable moments that they agreeably make the most of.
Yet Pine is the reason things work. His performance is a work of nimble art, perilously balancing between caricature, farce, melodramatic sincerity, and heroic arrogance with shocking ease. It feels as if Pine is pulling from a variety of influences, ranging from the rapid-fire slapstick genius of His Girl Friday (Cary Grant), the comic book wholesomeness of Superman (Christopher Reeve), and the whimsically haughty conviction of Young Frankenstein (Gene Wilder.)
Somehow, Pine pulls it off. His emotional beats are heartbreakingly genuine. He has a connection with both Rodriguez and with Coleman that’s haunting. As pleasantly daffy as the world Edgin struts around in may be, his feelings for Holga and especially Kira are affectingly pure. There is an honesty to these relationships that grounds all of the insanity in something wholesomely authentic, and Pine is the primary reason this is the case.
I do wish there wasn’t so much filler, and as well put together as the finished film is, I do think it would have been nice had Daley and Goldstein allowed editor Dan Lebental (Bad Boys for Life) one more pass at the material to tighten things up. The opening act is especially arduous, and while I get that most of the information being discussed is moderately vital, the sheer volume of exposition dumped on the audience is still rather tiresome.
But who am I kidding? Rolling the dice on Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the way to go. It’s a magical ride into the fantastical, and I spent most of the film’s running time giggling in engrossed appreciation. Daley and Goldstein cast a winning spell, and here’s hoping we get to open a new book featuring this rogues’ gallery of heroes sometime soon.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)