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‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’: Just roll with it
Someone far wiser than I will have to explain why the past decade saw a rise in movies based on board games. We’ve had 2012′s “Battleship” with Rihanna and two “Ouija” board movies in 2014 and 2016. There was even an atrocious 2015 thriller called “Backgammon,” where the femme fatale seduced her victim by cooing, “Let’s play backgammon, hee-hee-hee!”
Now there’s “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” which brings the game affectionately known as “D&D” to the big screen this week. Technically, D&D is a tabletop role-playing game, but just go with me here. Like “Ouija,” it carries a screen credit that says “based on the game by Hasbro,” easily one of the strangest credits to ever grace films.
Here’s an even stranger thing: This movie is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. The actors are clearly enjoying themselves, and it shows in their performances. Unlike many films of this type, the F/X work is lit well enough to be seen. The sprawling production design by Raymond Chan is rich with detail, and the fantasy score by Lorne Balfe is propulsive without being obnoxious.
On the downside, the film itself makes not one lick of sense, and it has more dei ex machina than all of ancient Greek theater. Despite these annoyances, “D&D: HAT” is often fun to watch.
Of course, I’m the guy who liked both of those “Ouija” movies quite a bit. (Non, je ne regrette rien!) So, sprinkle some grains of salt on this review.
More importantly, if you are a D&D player, go see this film. It’s my understanding that it plays just like a gaming session. I can’t speak to that because I was not allowed to play D&D when I was a kid. (Thanks a lot, Satanic Panic of my youth!) Because I missed out, apply a grain of salt here as well.
“D&D: HAT” stars one of the umpteen Chrises working in the action/fantasy genre, Chris Pine. Pine plays Edgin, a musician-slash-thief who, when the film opens, stands before the interspecies parole board of a snow-covered prison. His platonic partner, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), is beside him. They’ve been incarcerated for a few years due to a botched robbery they committed with their other partner, Forge (Hugh Grant).
Edgin narrates a flashback that tells of this robbery. It was devised to procure a magical device that would bring Edgin’s beloved late wife back from the dead so his young daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), could be reunited with the mother she never knew. Instead, thanks to the magic of the evil Red Wizard, Sofina (Daisy Head), he and Holga were imprisoned while Forge escaped.
After a daring prison break that, like much of this film’s plot, comes out of nowhere, Holga and Edgin are reunited with Forge. They learn that he has betrayed Edgin by convincing Kira that her father deserted her. And he misrepresented the reason for Edgin’s role in the theft that got him sent up the river. Now known as Lord Neverwinter, Forge is also in cahoots with Sofina and is about to stage a “Hunger Games”-style competition.
Edgin and Holga plot to save Kira, defeat Sofina, and steal as much loot as they can from the rich attendees of Lord Neverwinter’s upcoming death-filled sporting event. But they will need help. Reinforcements arrive courtesy of shape-shifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) and amateur wizard Simon (Justice Smith).
Though Rodriguez shines as a rugged warrior with a heart of gold, and Grant excels in the smarmy villain role he can now play in his sleep, Smith is the standout here. His lack of confidence is touching; you root for him to be the mighty wizard he longs to be — and could be, if only he believed in his own abilities.
“Bridgerton” fans should be aware that Simon Basset, a.k.a. Regé-Jean Page, has a small part here as a paladin named Xenk. I haven’t seen 30 seconds of that show, but I now know why Page made viewers spontaneously combust: Xenk is not only a strikingly handsome ally, he’s even more “practically perfect” than Mary Poppins — he can do no wrong. Page and Pine have a blast playing off their antagonism; even Edgin knows Xenk should be the hero of this movie.
The screenplay, by directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and co-writer Michael Gilio, tries to evoke the feeling that “D&D: HAT” is being written on the fly as the movie unfolds. While their attempt is valiant, it takes away from the task of creating a world that we’ll want to revisit or see again (you know there will be sequels). I could barely remember the logistics of this universe, mostly because they were never fluid. This is why I’m marginally not recommending the film.
There is one moment, however, when “D&D: HAT” almost pushed my rating up to three stars. It involves gathering information from the corpses of people killed in battle. Simon hatches a spell that reanimates them until five questions are asked. This hilarious scene unfolds with such unabashed absurdity that, had the rest of the film been this clever, it would have sealed the deal.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES
Directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. Written by Goldstein, Daley, and Michael Gilio. Based on the game by Hasbro. Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Regé-Jean Page, Daisy Head, Chloe Coleman. 134 minutes. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, and suburbs. PG-13 (mild swearing, dragon fire, smoldering “Bridgerton” dude)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.