Anyone who has sat around a table to participate in a battle of Dungeons & Dragons knows that there is very little (if any) humor associated with the game. That deep level of seriousness works when engaged in dice-driven adventures but doesn’t translate that well to a big screen adaptation.
That hasn’t stopped filmmakers from trying to turn the game into a movie. The team behind the 2001 feature film “Dungeons & Dragons” discovered the flaw of being too serious. It failed to garner any attention despite having Jeremy Irons in the cast.
Directors Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley – who co-directed “Game Night” – did not make the same mistake with “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” Their approach was to balance big action sequences with a continuous barrage of one-liners and sight gags.
The essence of the game is still there. At least there are still dungeons and dragons. This tale of a group of ragtag adventurers who must break into an impenetrable castle to get a special relic is presented with plenty of humor. Most of that comes from the steady string of failures by the group.
The catalyst for the adventures and misadventures is Edgin (Chris Pine), a man who once upheld justice but after one illegal act that ended up resulting in the death of his wife, he changed. The problem is magnified when he is caught trying to recover a mystical relic that could give him his life back. This lands him in prison.
While away, Edgin’s daughter falls under the care of a shifty conman, Forge (Hugh Grant), who ends up not being the friend Edgin had imagined.
Edgin rounds up help to get back his daughter and the relic. The group includes: the super strong Holga (Michelle Rodriguez); Simon (Justice Smith), a wizard with self-esteem issues; and Doric (Sophia Lillis), a woodland demon who can shift her shape.
This merry band of rogues must face a series of challenges before they can accomplish their final mission. They do each with a joke in their hearts and a quip on their lips.
Two performances stand out. Grant slithers into the skin of the conman with such conviction that it is easy to root for him to be convicted. Even before he turns on the group, there is so much deception in his eyes that he makes for a top-notch foil.
Then there is Rege-Jean Page who plays the mysterious Xenk who drifts in and out of the story like a guardian angel. When he is on screen, Page plays the peacefulness and honesty his character is supposed to exude with great skill. The only problem is that there just isn’t enough of him.
Goldstein and Daley – who wrote the script with Michael Gilio – have put together a fun and fanciful story of a group of misfits who deal with adversity through humor. If that sounds slightly familiar it is that “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” could have easily been called “Guardians of the Fantasy Galaxy.”
The way the action sequences are tied together through the squabbles of the group resonates in the same way as the first “Guardians of the Galaxy.” That was when that franchise had not given in to more serious stories and a repetitiveness of humor that turned the films stale.
There’s also the problem that a lot of people get Chris Pine and Chris Pratt confused. It’s not just the same first name but both bring a very dry wit to the roles they play in big action productions.
If there are sequels to “Dungeons & Dragons,” the sharp banter may also begin to feel old and tired. For now, the decision to not play this adventure story with a profound reverence was a smart decision.
Go ahead and roll the dice on this one if you are looking for a light adventure. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is full of fun and fantasy.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Cast: Chris Pine, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith
Directors: Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley
Rated: PG-13 for fantasy violence, language
Running time: 134 minutes.