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Regé-Jean Page, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Pine, Sophia Lillis, and Justice Smith prepare to face whatever made those skeletons in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Courtesy Paramount Pictures and eOne

A writer-director named Courtney Solomon spent a full decade trying to make a movie out of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and when his film finally reached theaters in 2000, hardly anyone saw it other than those who were paid to, like me. Most of us found it a joyless bore that went for character and plot over special effects and got neither, so imagine my surprise last December when I saw the trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and found it entertaining. The series is now in the hands of comedy filmmakers who clearly understand the role-playing game that this is based on and know how to make light of it without pissing off the game’s fanbase, which is why this swords-and-sorcery movie lives up to that trailer.

The backstory is given to us in the form of a parole hearing of sorts, as a prisoner named Edgin (Chris Pine) explains how he fell from the respectable role of a harper — a musician and spy for good — into a life of crime. Without waiting for the parole board’s verdict, he and fellow inmate Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) bust out and find that their former partner in crime, Forge (Hugh Grant), not only snitched them to the authorities but has now become an insanely rich lord thanks to his alliance with the red-robed wizards who killed Ed’s wife. However, Forge has kept his promise to raise Edgin’s daughter (Chloe Coleman) — by turning her against her convict dad. The fugitives decide to assemble a team to take down the nefarious lord.

The filmmaking team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have had both highs (Horrible Bosses) and lows (Horrible Bosses 2) as writers, and their previous directing effort was the delightful Game Night. Their eye for comedy is particularly welcome in a scene when our heroes use a magic spell to interrogate a dead soldier regarding the whereabouts of a magic thingy. Their lack of clarity about the rules of raising the dead means that they have to keep digging up corpse after corpse to find the information they need. Later on, our heroes and the undead bad guys whom they’re fighting both have to flee from a dragon that’s so fat that it can’t walk or fly, so it rolls after its prey, which makes for a great visual joke. The CGI alternates between great and intentionally terrible to further the comedy, and at one point our heroes avoid death by diving into a gelatinous cube. Does it get more D&D than a gelatinous cube?

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Casting Grant as the villain is a sure way to avoid being overly serious, though I do wish the writers had done more with him, since he’s clever enough to seem like he’s defending Ed while making his child hate her dad all the more. Sophia Lillis is oddly flat, too, as the group’s shape-shifting spy. Still, the bounciness that Pine brought to the Star Trek reboot serves him just as well here, especially when Ed can only shout encouragement while Holga single-handedly fights off the guards who’ve been tasked with executing the duo. He’s given ample comic support by Justice Smith as a cowardly third-rate wizard and Regé-Jean Page (from TV’s Bridgerton), who manages the difficult task of being funny while playing a warrior with no sense of humor.

I could wish for better emotional ties among the group, but Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves gives us a fun bunch of antiheroes and places some familiar monsters in their way while leaving others for the sequel (beholders? bodaks? black puddings?). I wouldn’t mind following them on another adventure, especially if the jokes are as funny.

 

 

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Starring Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. Written by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, and Michael Gilio. Rated PG-13.

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