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'Knights of Baddassdom': Biting the LARPing hand that feeds it

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Knights of Baddassdom

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You can see the appeal of a film like “Knights of Badassdom” to a crowdsourcing geek audience. It’s got heavy metal, role-playing games, and live action role-playing games. Add in Peter Dinklage as a player named Hung, an “Evil Dead” homage, and gratuitous shots of Summer Glau’s rear-end in fishnet stockings and you’ve pretty much got a hit on your hands. Or you should anyway. Unfortunately, “Knights of Baddassdom” looks like it was filmed in a day and due to sloppy editing, never really rises above a hodgepodge of geek bait.

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Joe (Ryan Kwanten), a heavy metal rock singer who has a decent job as a mechanic, gets dropped by his hottie girlfriend who is more interested in a man with career aspirations. I’d like to point out that at no point in the film is being a mechanic apparently considered a viable career, one of the insidious aspects of a film like “Kings of Badassdom” – apparently being a mechanic means you do nothing all day but goof off.

Downtrodden, Joe is bolstered by his two friends, the aforementioned Hung and Eric (Steve Zahn). And by bolstered I mean they roofie him with a combination of drugs and booze, dress him up in armor, and drop him off at a Live Action Role-Playing game (LARP).

One thing “Knights of Baddassdom” gets right is how LARPs actually work. It takes great glee in making fun of the supposed epic nature of the LARP conflicts, despite the fact that they’re essentially taking place in a park and a parking lot, respectively. Unlike other movies about LARPs, “Knights of Badassdom” makes it a point of showing that referees are an important part of the game. Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson) is an egomaniac, invoking shades of “Zero Charisma,” who is endlessly mocked for being caught masturbating to the picture of a succubus from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. This is a thing – original D&D books frequently showed women’s breasts in art, and it was often the first exposure young boys had to nudity (ah, the days before the Internet).

These two plot points -- lusting after a fictional monster and breaking up with an awful girlfriend – come to a head when Eric uses a real mystical book written in Enochian to accidentally summon a succubus that takes the shape of Joe's girlfriend. Hilarity ensues.

The succubus goes around having sex with people (for some reason, this always happens off screen, despite the frequent use of swear words, drugs, and alcohol abuse) and then killing them by tearing out their hearts and eating it. Our heroes are called on to become true heroes by using actual weapons (totally not allowed in a LARP) to defeat her.

Of course, things get worse before they get better. The problem is they get unbelievably bad when the succubus turns into a huge demon who proceeds to slaughter half of the LARPers. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could have a happy ending after that, but “Knights of Baddassdom” hopes you don’t notice, and culminates with a rock battle that proves bards really are the most important member of the party.

It’s the execution that suffers. The rock music isn’t that great. The demon looks like a guy in a monster suit, which is a real problem when everyone else looks like guys in monster suits. The demon has a big, vaginal-like opening that looks like it was probably supposed to do something in the movie, but never does. It’s all very Freudian and not particularly rewarding.

The other problem is the women in this film. There are just two: Summer Glau, who only joined to keep an eye on her mentally ill cousin (and frequently dodges the same branch, a scene used twice in the film) and “the bitch” girlfriend, in the form of a succubus on the night of their prom. The phrase “bitch” is used frequently, and despite the bevy of female LARPers in the background, not one of them has anything to do besides die. The one other female who has a speaking part cheats on her boyfriend after having a threesome and then promptly makes out with the succubus in the middle of the woods, despite the fact that she’s spattered with gore. This film doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test, it didn’t wake up on time to even take it.

“Knights of Badassdom” has a pro-gaming message that’s undermined by its attempt to create stereotypes of characters: the slacker/rocker who is a lot more successful at life than the film gives him credit for, the athletic hottie who has almost nothing to do besides be the future girlfriend, and the “bitch” who has a philosophy that LARPing is a waste of time -- a theme the film subtly endorses. According to "Knights of Baddassdom," the only people who are good at a LARP and deserve a happy ending are the two people who didn’t want to be a part of it in the first place.

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