MOVIE BUFF-ET: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword entertains despite bombing at the box office

Rex Features

Guy Ritchie, who made his bones directing fast-paced, humorous films about British thugs like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” and “Revolver,” might not seem like a match for directing the latest take on the well-worn Arthurian legend.

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However, the British director, who is also attached to direct Disney’s live-action version of “Aladdin,” acquitted himself well with “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword,” making an entertaining sword-and-sorcery film in his trademark style.

Ritchie’s Arthur is not you’re father’s version the legendary king. The film only bares a cursory resemblance to Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” as Ritchie plays loosely with details of the legend, but still keeps the movie on the Arthurian rails.

While Ritchie straying from the traditional story might put off some devotees, the fast-moving pace and alternate twist on the oft-told tale kept me entertained in the moment despite noticing that the movie traced a similar plot path to 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

With just a feature-film running time, the movie can’t match the depth of characterization crafted over multiple seasons on a TV show like “Game of Thrones,” which has set a high bar for any medieval fantasy to match.

The elephant in the room, though, is that a relatively low opening-weekend box-office total of $14 million labeled the movie a bomb out of the gate. Warner Bros. is set to face a substantial loss on the film’s $175 million production budget.

That’s a shame because Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy” and “Lost City of Z”) cuts a dashing figure as the Once and Future King, who grows up in a brothel after evil events separate him from his parents at a tender age.

Arthur has no clue of his royal heritage, but when he is pushed into accepting his role as the rightful King of England, he is pitted against Vertigern (Jude Law), an evil usurper who made a deal with wicked forces to gain control of the throne.

Law makes an excellent big bad, who struggles a bit with his wicked ways before ultimately plunging even further into depravity in an attempt to retain the throne. Fans of the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta will notice his influence on Law’s mystical warrior appearance as he seeks to deal death to Hunnam’s Arthur.

The film does not include expected characters like Gwenevere, Lancelot or Morgan le Fay, but Merlin is mentioned and Mordred’s role, thought small, is quite different from his traditional part in the tale.

Arthur is aided by Astrid Berges-Frisbey as The Mage, Djimon Hounsou as Sir Bedivere, Aidan Gillen as Goosefat Bill, and Tom Wu as George. Soccer star David Beckham as a small part as one of Vertigern’s soldier, and Katie McGrath, who played Morgan le Fay on the BBC’s solid “Merlin” TV series, makes a wickedly ironic cameo.

There are better and certaingly more faithful films depicting the Arthurian legend. John Boorman’s 1981 fantasy-drama “Excalibur” and Joshua Logan’s 1967 adaption of the Lerner and Lowe musical “Camelot” are the two I’d suggest. But, if you enjoy fantasy films, you can do a lot worse than “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”

(PG-13) 2hr. 6 min.
Grade: B-

Classic Corner

Smokey and the Bandit

“Star Wars” set box-office records as the highest grossing film of 1977, but can you name the film that trailed it?

If you said “Smokey and the Bandit,” that’s a big 10-4, good buddy.

The road comedy starring Burt Reynolds as the Bandit and Jackie Gleason as the Smokey in question had film goers in stitches at the same time George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford were taking them to a galaxy far, far away.

Reynolds was one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws of the day. His signature mustache, toothy smile, and devil-may-care personae made him popular with the ladies and their men. Gleason, affecting a convincing Southern accent, was perfect as Reynolds’ frustrated and funny foil, Buford T. Justice.

The two are at odds because a wealthy Texan businessman Big Enos Burdette hires the Bandit, a legendary trucker, to bootleg 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, to Georgia for the tidy sum of $80,000 under a 28-hour deadline. In the 1970s, Coors was a highly desired brew mainly because it couldn’t be legally sold east of Oklahoma. The deadline was an issue because in 1977 the speed limit was a leisurely 55 miles per hour.

Justice vows to stop delivery and hilarity ensues as the Bandit and his partner Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) work together with the help of runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field) to get the beer to Georgia on time.

The film hit theaters near the height of the unexplainable trucker craze that captured pop culture’s fancy at the same exact time disco music made its assault on the pop charts. The film’s theme “East Bound and Down,” became a Country hit for Reed, charting at No. 2 thanks to the popularity of the film.

The movie, the first directorial effort of former stuntman Hal Needham, is great fun thanks to the charisma, timing, and skill of the talented cast of comedic performers. “Smokey and the Bandit” truly is a movie worth revisiting on its 40th anniversary.

The Malco Razorback Theater in Fayetteville will hold special screenings of the film at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21, and at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 24.