Filmed in 2010, still in post-production in 2012, finally released in 2014, apparently cut by the studio against the director’s wishes, disowned by one of its writers, and no review copies provided before its release. Just how bad is this?
Joe (Ryan Kwanten, shirtless wonder of “True Blood”) is a bit of a drifter through life. He’s a mechanic, is in a metal band – which has gone through doom, sludge and black metal styles, although when you hear him sing one of his songs at the end it sounds like pure 80s “hair” – and lives in the spare room of his friends Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage) place, a normal-ish house with the frontage of a mansion. They’re there to help Joe out when he gets dumped by first suggesting he goes LARPing with them, then when he refuses drugging and boozing him into unconsciousness, dressing him up in LARP gear and taking him to an event.
Live Action Role Playing is, by all accounts, tons of fun. Make yourself a character, make yourself some gear, get a foam weapon or two and go on adventures out in the woods. Imagination is required, obviously, but it’s a sub-culture that continues to thrive and long may it do so. Joe used to play D&D way back, but is years out of that life, although after some fairly mild protestation he sees Gwen (Summer Glau) walking past and decides to change his mind. Gwen joins their group, along with her cousin Gunther who thinks it’s all real, and Lando (Danny Pudi) who tries to bend the rules at every opportunity. Gamesmaster Ronnie Kwok (Jimmi Simpson) insists that Joe’s character be introduced to the world via a summoning spell, so Eric produces the old book he found on the internet and proceeds to read a passage out of it. Little does he know that the book is a real 16th century tome on witchcraft and suchlike, and rather than having a bit of fun they summon a succubus demon, which takes on the shape of Joe’s ex Beth (Margarita Levieva).
The large LARP event continues on, with the different teams doing their quests and having a good time, while the succubus picks off people out in the woods on their own. Oh, and there’s a subplot with a group of locals who are into paintballing hating the LARP guys. When the demon finally reveals itself, they accidentally turn it into an enormous beast, and it would have been demon vs. a bunch of guys with foam swords but luckily, Eric is a genius real weapon-maker, and has all sorts of swords and axes in his van.
There are two sides to this film, the plot and the comedy. The comedy is strong – Peter Dinklage is, of course, amazing (even if it sounds like he’s doing an impression of the Saturday Night Live sketch “The Californians”); Joe’s fish-slightly-out-of-water reactions to the LARP never stray over the line into mockery of the culture, the people doing the LARP fights are all into it, so there’s lots of dramatic swordplay and honourable “deaths”, and the authority figure of Ronnie Kwok, while he could have been a cartoon villain, is just a guy who wants to make a great adventure for everyone. There’s maybe a bit too much of that thing where someone will exclaim loudly in faux-medieval, then sneak in the real-life meaning of their words quietly afterwards, but this is small potatoes. There’s a lot of laughs in this film, it’s got a cast of comedy heavy-hitters and they’re all on form.
The plot is where the problems lie. They handwave away them owning a one-of-a-kind book of almost incalculable value; Joe gets over his ex very quickly indeed; the subplot of Gunther’s mental problems is played for laughs and has no resolution; the succubus is a complete non-character; and the paintball subplot goes absolutely nowhere. When you think of the number of people who die in this film, too, you’re expecting some sort of reset spell, because comedies which end with 5 people out of a hundred left alive are sort of a tough sell. Oh, there’s an epilogue bit where it tells you what happens to all the characters which feels tacked on by slightly less funny writers.
Overall, though, I liked this film. Low-key, decent sense of humour, and a raft of good-to-great performances. I think female / gay male viewers of this might have a bit of a gripe, though. We get a nice tight focus on Summer Glau’s behind a few times, and there’s an entirely gratuitous lesbian kiss scene; but when it comes to revealing Ryan Kwanten’s shirtless physique, which my wife assures me is very nice to look at indeed, we get basically nothing. Seriously, filmmakers – people who like to look at naked and semi-naked men have just as much money to spend on films as those who like to look at women, so if you’re going to throw in gratuitous scenes, give everyone what they want. Has anyone who wasn’t an enormous asshole ever complained about there being too much male flesh on display in a film?
Rating: thumbs up