A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.
You could write all I know about “Dungeons and Dragons” on a grain of rice and still have room to inscribe the Bill of Rights. Be that as it may, it didn’t prevent me from having a great time with “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” the second and much better attempt at bringing the role-playing game sensation to the big screen. Though running over two hours, there’s little downtime as directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who co-wrote the script with Michael Gilio, pack the film with fantastic action scenes and wry humor, which is the key to the film’s success. Tongues are planted firmly in cheek by all, each reveling in, when they are not commenting on, the ridiculous nature of the entire premise.
Chris Pine, never more charming, is Edgin, a quick-talking rogue who never encountered a situation he couldn’t talk his way out of or make an escape from. The first scene sees him fleeing prison with the help of Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), a fierce warrior who never leaves his side. They set out to reunite with Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), who was left in the care of their former partner in crime, Forge (Hugh Grant), whose fortunes have changed radically since last they met. Throwing in with the evil sorceress Sofina (Daisy Head), he’s become the ruler of a walled city and the power has gone to his head. However, having turned Kira against her father may be his most heinous crime, something Edgin becomes aware of after he and Holga meet them and are banished from the kingdom.
Obviously, there’s only one thing to do and that is to get the band back together to rescue Kira. Edgin tracks down the amateur sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), a wizard with a confidence problem which really impairs his ability to conjure anything. Also recruited is Doric (Sophia Lillis), a shapeshifter with her own personal axe to grind against Forge. However, before they can storm the castle, they need to track down the Helmet of Disjunction, a talisman that will get them entry into Forge’s vault where he has secreted the Tablet of Reawakening. This will allow him to resurrect his wife, a move he hopes will win back Kira. (I’m sure that helmet thingy and tablet whatsit mean something to players of the game. To me they were just rather clever MacGuffins.)
Pine, with a twinkle in his eye throughout, has great fun in the con man role, quick with a quip, quicker with a heist plan. The actor’s charisma has rarely been put to as good of use as it is here. His charm makes us believe his friends would go along with any plan he concocts, no matter how ridiculous. Rodriguez displays heretofore unseen comedic chops, her character dealing with a broken heart while mangling anyone who gets in her way. A scene in which he meets her former love – a cameo by one of Hollywood’s biggest stars- is a delight and finds the actress conveying a sense of vulnerability that’s amusing because her character struggles to keep it hidden.
Perhaps the film’s secret weapon is Rege-Jean Page in the role of Xenk, a fearless warrior who’s as straight as Edgin is crooked. The fact that he does not understand irony and has no sense of humor makes the pair perfect foils. And while the humor generated by this coupling is effective, it’s the poignant sense of respect they develop for each other that hits home.
Daley and Goldstein make no bones about borrowing from other familiar properties, the most obvious being the original “Star Wars.” The deft combination of light humor and breezy action that made it so memorable is in this film’s DNA. Yet, the final sequence puts a fun twist on “Gladiator” as the four heroes find themselves in an arena with an ever-shifting maze that emerges from its floor. Throw in some panthers with Venus flytrap tentacles, as well as iron chests planted throughout that contain either friends or foes and you have a rip-roaring climax as good as anything you’ve seen in a genre piece like this.
It’s obvious Paramount Pictures is hoping this is the beginning of a franchise and this entry gets this enterprise off to a rousing start. Not only does the movie exceed expectations but manages to do what every filmmaker hopes for – leaves the audience wanting more.
3 1/2 Stars