The introductions to “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” at the SXSW Film Festival emphasized that they “made this picture show for everyone.” There’s clearly a business that the celluloid may non reach exterior the demographic of people who once played or still play the wildly influential purpose-playing game. And at that place should be because branding tin can be a double-edged sword. On the ane mitt, it targets a massive fan base of operations already familiar with an IP. On the other manus, a cinema has to live skillful enough to break out of that familiarity to range a wider audience—intend of how good “The Last of Us” is playing to viewers who never played the game. So how volition fans of Dungeons & Dragons respond to this expensive foray into their favorite fantasy experience? Paramount is rolling a 20-sided exit too hoping to acquire the right number, but the fickle Dungeon Master of Hollywood may hold a fatal surprise around the side by side corner.

The truth is that the game Dungeons & Dragons is oft at its best when it’s at its most ridiculously unpredictable in addition to downright dizzy. Co-author/directors Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley together with co-author Michael Gilio endeavour to recreate that “nosotros require a plan” construction of the game inwards a script that feels similar it’s oft making itself upward every bit it goes along. Or pretending to do so. While that’s an ambitious fashion to approach a fantasy cinema, it tin make for oddly unsatisfying stretches of the last production by eliminating stakes as well as forcing lightheartedness. Manufactured spontaneity is almost impossible, together with likewise much of “Honor Among Thieves” feels like it’s unfolding amongst a wink too a nod instead of beingness legitimately crude around the edges, inward-the-moment, and fresh. There are stretches of “Honor Among Thieves” that have got the whimsical chaos of Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness”—including a neat sequence involving the talking dead—too the celluloid frequently recalls the “ragtag team of saviors” note of “Guardians of the Milky Way.” Still, the film oftentimes plays out like it’s faking what the creators beloved virtually the game instead of trying to interpret it from ane medium to another.

The typically charming Chris Pine plays Edgin Darvis, a quondam member of a group called the Harpers. After his wife is killed by an evil grouping known every bit the Red Wizards, Edgin tries to execute a heist to retrieve an detail that tin can take her dorsum to life, but he’s betrayed, imprisoned with his BFF Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), a stoic barbarian. In a clever sequence, the couplet escapes together with find that Edgin’s girl Kira (Chloe Coleman) has been taken inward together with lied to by their team’s old ally Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant). The rogue betrayed Edgin and the team inwards several ways, including partnering amongst a fell Red Wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head).

Edgin in addition to Holga hold several missions in this D&D crusade: Save Kira, acquire revenge on Forge, stop the Red Wizards, as well as mayhap discover some loot along the way. The mission volition reunite them with an unconfident wizard named Simon (Justice Smith), a shapeshifting druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis), in addition to a charming paladin named Xenk (Regé-Jean Page). Like whatever “squad of heroes” pic, these characters each bring dissimilar skill sets that the group volition call for to accomplish their goals, as well as the writers pepper the film amongst odd hurdles for the grouping to overcome, including a clever sequence involving some undead enemies together with a chubby dragon inward a dungeon.

If it all sounds like it’s more than for fantasy gamers than “everyone,” well, it undeniably is. The film is filled alongside references to D&D—refer drops similar “Baldur’s Gate” and “Neverwinter” created audible responses during the premiere—but I wouldn’t travel as far every bit to say the celluloid won’t work at all for people who hold never made a graphic symbol for a drive. Most of the references hither will audio like depth for non-gamers who may see more parallels to products like “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Witcher” than their actual origin. It’s a celluloid that’s rich inward fantasy terminology in a way that seems similar its creators affectionately recollect creating characters inward their mom’s basement when they were young. That genuine involvement in the lore of D&D may be plenty for some people. But what nearly everyone else?

Affection for a root doesn’t e’er translate to execution in price of arts and crafts, in addition to the filmmaking here is shoddy. In damage of the flashes too bangs, “Honor Among Thieves” works much amend when it focuses on practical effects (or at to the lowest degree ones that wait practical—everything is CGI present) in addition to tin can detect a tactile lineament that the CGI-heavy sequences lack. When Edgin as well as his squad are waking upwards corpses to get data, or Sofina is just scowling in her malevolent makeup, the celluloid is more grounded than when it’s drifting off inward magic-driven sequences of people casting spells both willy and nilly. There’s also a lack of earth-edifice in a picture that should be dense with it when it comes to pattern. Forge’s urban center looks similar a generic fantasy video game setting, as well as the chance to arts and crafts interesting backdrops for these varied characters is rarely taken. It looks similar a celluloid that’s going to age poorly visually.

The cast is reasonably potent, alongside Pine leaning into the rough charisma I’ve e’er idea would have made him a massive star in the ‘60s. All of the cast was clearly chosen to play to their strengths, alongside Grant amplifying his smarm and Rodriguez kicking donkey when needed. Relative newcomers Smith and Lillis are effective, also, alongside the one-time finding some vulnerability and the latter being consistently engaging as she uncertainly becomes a hero.

What’s most shocking nearly “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is how picayune meat in that location is on these reanimated bones, fifty-fifty amongst a bloated 139-minute runtime. When a cast of characters runs from programme A to plan B together with dorsum to program A, the constant movement doesn’t allow for much else. Most of this celluloid is “What nosotros do straight off?” Again, that’s fun amongst friends, less and so when you have no command over the answer.

This review was filed from the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” opens on March 31.

By akagami