NEW YORK (OSV News) – A voyage through the forbidding landscape known to insiders as the Underdark is as jolly as a skip down the Yellow Brick Road in “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (Paramount). In fact, this lavish reworking of lore from the well-known role-playing fantasy game maintains a jaunty tone wherever it travels.
The history of the underlying property hasn’t always been so upbeat. In its original format, “D&D” was suspected of preying on vulnerable personalities, enticing them to fall into its imaginary world so deeply that they could harm themselves or others.
When the quasi-cultish pastime was first brought to the big screen in 2000, moreover, the eponymous adaptation was widely panned. Two straight-to-DVD sequels followed. Wisely, co-directors and writers (with Michael Gilio) Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley leave all that baggage behind and get an entirely fresh start.
They not only plumb their odyssey tale for laughs — the comedy ranges from the broadly physical to the sly subtlety of a cocked eyebrow — but for as much kinetic energy as they can extract as well. Along with the humor, they throw in movie-star charisma and lavish special effects.
The labyrinthine medieval theme park thus constructed is a congenial locale. Indeed, the movie is so eager to be likable that viewers have little choice but to fall under its spell and be contentedly pummeled as the gags fly past.
Chris Pine is Edgin, an ex-spy-turned-imprisoned-thief. Given that the espionage outfit of which he was once a member was called the Harpers, it’s perhaps no surprise that Edgin will break into song whenever he’s given an opportunity. As for his pilfering, he’s careful to note that no one is ever physically harmed in these escapades.
At a pardon hearing, Edgin escapes captivity, accompanied by his barbarian accomplice Holga (Michelle Rodriguez). Together they set out on a quest to retrieve a totem known as the Tablet of Reawakening, which Edgin believes has the power to bring his deceased wife back to life.
Their mission is complicated by the fact that the Tablet is currently in the possession of smarmy villain Forge (Hugh Grant). Once an ally, Forge has gone over to the dark side and has used his influence as the temporary guardian of Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) to get the lass under his sway.
Edgin and Holga eventually acquire a trio of allies: half-human sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) and shape-shifting druid, Doric (Sophia Lillis). For his part, Forge is aided by an evil Red Wizard, Sofina (Daisy Head).
Stuff frequently explodes, some characters dissolve into dust, there’s a fire-breather that looks like Godzilla on steroids, solutions must be improvised in the nick of time, and the finale involves a huge maze inhabited by predatory creatures raring to take a bite out of any and all who come their way. A rollicking time, in other words, is had by everyone.
The “Princess Bride”-style charm even extends to a sequence in which the good guys have to interrogate corpses in a graveyard. Edgin plays this as a vaudeville routine in which he constantly forgets how many questions he’s permitted to ask before the cadavers return to their state in the great beyond.
Predictably, love and family values triumph in the end. But the real point is the journey itself and the bonds, insights and self-knowledge the characters who embark on it acquire. Appealing from the start, they end up smarter than when their adventure began.
The film contains occult themes, cartoonish violence and gore and occasional crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for OSV News.Tags: Movie Review