“I don’t want to see you die … which is why I’m going to leave the room.”
Hugh Grant, as the comically two-faced villain, delivers this gem in “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (PG-13, 134 minutes, in theaters). It’s one of many funny bits that make this adventure fantasy – which blends elements of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Game of Thrones” – so entertaining.
It’s not all about the laughs. Based on the D&D tabletop role-playing game, the film boasts a variety of colorful, medieval-type characters (thieves, sorcerers, assassins, a shape-shifting druid, a pudgy dragon), settings, and weapons and tools (the best: a walking stick use for teleportation). Most of these are directly related to D&D, but you don’t have to have any familiarity with the game to enjoy this film version.
Meanwhile, the action sequences are fast-paced and exciting – much more fun and imaginative, for instance, than the highly acclaimed fight scenes in the new “John Wick.”
Chris Pine plays Edgin Darvis, a member of the peacekeeping order called the Harper’s, until his wife is killed by the evil Red Wizards. Embittered and left with an infant daughter, he becomes a thief, and decides to pull one final heist with his partner, barbarian Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez); novice sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith); con man Forge Fitzwilliam (Grant); and spooky Sofina (Daisy Head), a Red Wizard. Edgin’s target in the heist is a “tablet of resurrection” that he hopes will bring his wife back to life.
Typical of any “one final heist” in a movie, things go very badly for Edgin, and when the film opens (all of the above is related in flashbacks), he and Holga are imprisoned in a dungeon. They escape, reunite with Simon and enlist the help of shape-shifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), and go on a mission of retribution, retrieval (of Edgin’s daughter and the tablet of resurrection) and redemption. Their foes: Forge and Sofina.
The film’s co-directors, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, have a solid background in comedy. They co-wrote “Horrible Bosses” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” were among the screenwriters for “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and co-directed “Game Night.” (Daley is probably best-known for playing one of the central teens in the great TV series “Freaks and Geeks.”)
Their experience serves them well here, as they blend just the right amount of humor into the action and fantasy. Pine’s Darvis has a lot in common with Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Sky-Lord of “Guardians”: Both are good-natured, wisecracking leaders who are heroic despite their less-than-stellar physical and intellectual capabilities.
Rodriguez’s Holga is the film’s badass, who dominates the action scenes except when Lillis’ Doric transforms into a giant owlbear (a very cool-looking critter with a proclivity for extreme violence). Holga also has an amusing encounter with her ex-husband, played by a big star in a surprise cameo. There’s a sweet little potential romance between Smith’s insecure, lovestruck Simon and the no-nonsense Doric, while Head’s demonic Sofina – looking like a female Nosferatu with her bald head, pale face and blackened, hollowed-out eyes – seems like she’s just stepped off the set of “Game of Thrones.”
Best of all, though, is Grant as the jovial villain Forge, who isn’t above giving warm hugs to old friends while plotting their doom. His work here is just further evidence of how far he’s come in making the transition from charming leading man to scene-stealing character actor. ***½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.