Dungeons & Dragons’ phenomenal rise in popularity over the past decade made a new cinematic adaptation an inevitability. Directed by the co-writers of Spider-man: Homecoming, this is similarly a film that prioritises the relationships between its likeable heroes over world-threatening stakes. The party members are tropes — charismatic bard, stoic fighter, insecure sorceror, insufferable paladin and distrustful druid — imbued with personality by their actors, but the inspired decision is to place Chris Pine’s bard at the centre, since his careful planning followed invariably by chaos and improvisation perfectly captures the nature of the tabletop game. This approach allows the writers to flex their creativity in presenting and overcoming challenges as they set up a heist, including the best use of portals I have seen on screen. As the antagonist Forge, Hugh Grant channels his Paddington 2 performance without overplaying the comedic elements. Those hoping for the sweeping majestic grandeur of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings will be disappointed as, despite the decades of lore establishing the Forgotten Realms, Honour Among Thieves is a lightweight tale that engages in limited worldbuilding — we see a little of Neverwinter and the Harpers but the script is generally content to name drop inconsequential references for fans’ benefit. Visual effects are deployed in service to the story, with impressive swirling magical vortices and a menagerie of the Monster Manual’s fantastic creatures. That Honour Among Thieves has been so well received is no doubt aided by low expectations after 2000’s abysmal Dungeons & Dragons, but it is nevertheless a solid foundation on which a new cinematic franchise could be built.
Vampires and videogames may sound on-brand for me but, directed by notorious hack Uwe Boll, BloodRayne isn’t just bad — it’s aggressively awful. Watching distinguished actors slumming it can be fun when they cut loose and enjoy themselves but the universally lifeless performances feel almost like a directorial choice as much as disinterested apathy. Ditching the videogame’s mindlessly enjoyable vampires vs Nazis hook (presumably so that he could still take advantage of the German tax incentives that enable his career), Boll transplants the dhampir Rayne into a wafer-thin medieval fantasy revenge tale with atrocious dialogue that would be embarrassing even in an interactive medium. I admit to finding a brief glimmer of genuine entertainment in a few scenes where the film unintentionally descended into a parody of itself. Incredibly, Boll made two more of these; unsurprisingly, almost none of the cast returned.
“Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”
Growing up with scant interest in cars, this series of criminal vehicular excess passed me by. Although the story of a cop infiltrating a street racing gang is laughable and I still struggle to care about the cars, in the right frame of mind it is easy to enjoy the slick, high-octane action designed to provide an artificial testosterone kick. It is just a shame the women are given so little do whilst the guys growl, fight and drive. With the whole franchise appearing on Netflix I briefly considered ReelTime reviews but, based on the first entry, there is not enough content to justify it.
“If they don’t offer us justice, then they aren’t laws! They are just lines drawn in the sand by men who would stand on your back for power and glory.”
Although its rise from a spoof trailer in Grindhouse to an actual franchise is impressive, the creativity here is less so. Robert Rodriguez serves up the expected sex and violence of exploitation cinema, but this is less a modernised homage like Planet Terror than derivatively aping the genre’s style. There is fun to be had at the over-the-top ridiculousness of it all – “We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us!” – but there is little of substance here that Rodriguez has not achieved better before in his Mariachi trilogy.