Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves



Main Cast: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez

Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Things remain rather ho hum here at Condo Maine. I arise early each morning, get in a good workout with my tap therapist, Lulu Pigg, then work my way through vocalises and a chorus or two of Die Holle Rache with my voice coach, Madame Mimi. Then I await the morning post to sort through the offers for new appearances on stage or film that must start pouring in any day now that word has spread that I am fully recovered from my recent injuries. But the mail seems to consist mainly of circulars advertising consumer electronics and mailings from AARP which I could not possibly take advantage of as my professional age remains an ever youthful 39.

There was one possible script that arrived today and which I perused over my lunch time veggie plate and mai tai. It appeared to be a musical adaptation of something called Tiger King, which had a brief burst of popularity a few years ago. I’m being asked to consider the role of Carol, who appears to be some sort of deluded flower child animal rights activist who may or may not have a viricidal streak. My major issue with the script as structured is that the character appears to be the antagonist and I make it a point to always be the center of attention. Audiences want Vicki Lester front and center, not in a supporting role… unless it comes with a major tap solo and a ballad crafted to hit the pop charts.

mai tai
One must remain hydrated, after all.

As I had a few hours to kill before setting out, I decided to take in a film in the home theater. I wanted something inspirational and uplifting and reflective of my current values in life, so I settled upon last year’s epic fantasy adventure Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves which I had somehow missed during its theatrical run. It is now streaming on some service or other, so I queued it up, had the cook bring in another pitcher of mai tais and settled into a Barcalounger for a viewing. Not many know this, but I have been a long term player of role playing games myself and have been a member of a group consisting of entertainment luminaries that meets once a month or so for brunch and adventuring. Among our number are a former Miss America, an opera impresario, a high fashion photographer, and a reigning queen. Unfortunately, when I suggested they might wish to join me today, they were all busy with other projects.

Dungeons and Dragons as a game has been popular amongst people with overactive imaginations and a taste for fantasy literature for some 50 years now. There have been previous films inspired by it in the past, most not very good. The game and its materials, originally produced by a small company, Wizards of the Coast, was eventually bought up by toy conglomerate Hasbro about 20 years ago which has tried to find other ways to market the brand and the idea for the current film first germinated about 15 years ago. There were then various lawsuits over film rights to the material before it went through the usual development hell, swapping studios and creative staff until it landed with the team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein at Paramount. Daley, who as a young actor starred in the seminal, if short lived television series Freaks and Geeks seems to have been the right person to handle the material and he and Goldstein, who worked as writer/director partners before on Game Night, were able to get the green light and get Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves made. They wisely decided not to go the epic fantasy route full of backstory and lore but rather adapted the tropes of a heist caper movie to a fantasy setting and visual language which allows the movie to rattle along and give the audience a rollicking good time, similar to what gamers feel when they’re moving forward with their quest, and without getting bogged down in minutiae.

I’ll have Joseph, my manager, take a good look at the contract and make a final decision on the project later. In the meantime, if I want to claw my way back to the top of the heap here in tinsel town, I may just have to go out and take what’s rightfully mine. I told Jonathan, my chauffeur, to bring the car around about two and we would make the rounds of the studio development departments. I would make my entrance again with my usual flair and, when the minions were thoroughly distracted by my glamour and poise, he could slip copies of likely looking prospects from their desks into his carpet bag and I would then read them in the back of the limo at my leisure and see if there was anything circulating which I should be in the running for and which might not have been sent my way through egregious clerical error. I’ve obtained a few of my most memorable roles this way.

We begin with a jail break. Edgin (Chris Pine), a bard and Holga (Michelle Rodriquez) a barbarian fighter are languishing in an icy fortress when called before a sort of parole board. Edgin explains how they came to be there and why they should be released (rapidly filling the audience in on a necessary backstory about how their band of thieves found it necessary to break into the evil red wizards’ treasure) when an opportunity comes for them to make a break for it and out the window they go. They then spend some time running around rounding up the old gang which includes the not very talented sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), the rogue Forge (Hugh Grant doing his supercilious villain thing), the druid elf Doric (Sophia Lillis), and eventually the paladin Xenk (Rege-Jean Page). Forge has risen in the world, double crosses the rest and off we go on a chase for magic artifacts which will allow our intrepid heroes to break into Forge’s castle, rescue Edgin’s teenage daughter (Chloe Coleman), steal the loot, and bond as a team. It’s sort of Ocean’s Eleven but with more armor and swordplay and the occasional overweight dragon.

The end result is a fun ride as Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves careens from set piece to set piece. It never slows down and, if you don’t like dragons or elves or running from monsters in mazes, it soon moves on to another sequence with a different setting and problem for our heroes, with their disparate abilities, to solve. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride. My major complaint is that it’s about twenty minutes too long. We could have left a few of those sequences on the cutting room floor without damaging the film significantly. I suppose Daley and Goldstein wanted to show off all of their ideas and all of the CGI Paramount paid for. There are elements of the Indiana Jones films, Rogue One, and even The Wizard of Oz. For those familiar with the intricate rules of the original Dungeons and Dragons role playing game, there are plenty of nods to creatures, traps, character classes, and the occasional dice role that make up the experience of sitting around a card table with your friends and letting your imaginations run riot, helped along with some drawings from fantasy illustrators.

Chris Pine, as our lead rogue, manages to walk the rather fine line between charm and ridiculousness that the part calls for and he’s fun to watch. He also understands the somewhat heightened reality that he has to have in his line delivery to keep up the pace and brio. Most of the rest of the cast keeps up with him, especially Hugh Grant as the chief villain, although at times he seems to be channeling his character from Paddington. The least successful performer, to me, is Michelle Rodriguez. It’s partly the gruffness of her character but I don’t think she’s quite talented enough to be able to play both the gruff exterior and to also have some comic forward momentum to match her counterparts. She’s not bad. She just seems a bit out of place.

The visual effects are lovely, although they’re obvious CGI most of the time. There are some scenes which might have worked a bit better with more practical effects. Real people and real reactions just read better than AI characters in the background, especially in scenes involving major catastrophe and life and death choices (of which there are several involving red wizards who are identifiable as evil through their tattoos and dark eye makeup). Some scenes are a bit too big and swallow up our characters and might have played a bit better if there weren’t quite so many visual bells and whistles. Opulent CGI often works best when used sparingly.

All in all, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a fun romp, if a bit too long and too overblown in parts. I don’t think you’ll feel bad for spending a few hours with it.

Hidden baby. Time stops. Gratuitous Bradley Cooper. Dragon in need of Jenny Craig. Magic portals. Rescued cat. Gratuitous owl bear. Demonic red serpentine sky clouds. Tablet of resurrection.

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