Review: Solid direction, cast lift D&D movie above the fray

Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Pine, Sophia Lillis, and Justice Smith in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (Paramount Pictures)

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is an entertaining fantasy/comedy that on the surface doesn’t take itself too seriously, and because of that, it’s a fun time at the movies.

While I know of the role-playing game, I’ve never actually played “Dungeons & Dragons.” I probably would have enjoyed it, but I’m a year or two, too old to have caught onto the craze in the early 1980s, or maybe my friends were thinking too much about sports and girls to be that interested in playing make-believe as wizards, warriors, dwarves and thieves?

I’m not being condescending. If I could have found several friends to play, I probably would have been gung-ho. I just missed out.

So unfortunately I have no real insight into the game and how closely this film, written and directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, compares to actually playing the game. The movie is funny and has a good bit of heart. It has several well-staged action sequences, including an exciting climax, pitting our group of heroes against a formidable female wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) out to fry as many folks as possible.

The film isn’t high fantasy like “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” nor does it offer the political and social intrigue at the heart “Game of Thrones” and “House of the Dragon” from HBO. It’s a light adventure that is more family friendly than either of those, while still featuring quests, fighting, magic and mayhem.

Goldstein and Daley have to be complimented for their script and direction. This film could have easily gone sideways like 2000 attempt that was absolutely dreadful despite boasting a solid cast.

Chris Pine is the lead character Edgin Darvis, a bard, master planner, thief, and a dad. Edgrin along with his friends are seeking to stop Sofina, as well as acquire a mystical object that can bring one dead person back to life. He plans to use the object to resurrect his wife.

While on the quest with his best friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), Edgin is double-crossed by a duplicitous partner Forge (Hugh Grant). Forge makes off with the mystical object, a ton of loot, and Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman).

Along the way to rescue Kira, defeat Sofina and Forge, and garner the mystical object, Edgrin and Holga team with an amateur wizard Simon (Justice Smith), shape-shifter Doric (Sophia Lillis), and gallant knight Xenk (Rage-Jean Page) on the adventure. Each character has their moments but Pine, Rodriguez, and Grant carry the bulk of the film and seem to be having a lot of fun doing so.

I have no real criticisms of the film. I’m sure those who are more well-versed in the role-playing game will catch many winks and nods that flew over my head. There are a couple of fun Easter eggs in a maze sequence near the climax that I did catch.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a well-made comedy/adventure that is sure to be a family favorite this spring.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 14 min.
Grade: B

New in Local Theaters – March 31, 2023

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (PG-13) 2 hr. 14 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight)
A Thousand and One (R) 1 hr. 57 min. (trailer)(Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
His Only Son (PG-13) 1 hr. 41 min. (trailer)(Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle)
Spinning Gold (R) 2 hr 17 min. (trailer)(Malco Razorback, Malco Towne)

Classic Corner – TCM’s Horror Buffet

Anthony Perkins in Psycho (Paramount Pictures)

While Halloween is still months away, the night before April Fool’s Day is as good a time as any for a mini-horror marathon, or at least the programers of Turner Classic Movies must think so.

TCM’s serving up a classic horror buffet befitting a king, starting tonight at 7 p.m. with the grandaddy or maybe grand-mammy of all slasher flicks — director Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

7 p.m. – Psycho (1960)

Horror and sci-fi master Robert Bloch used the murderous exploits of actual serial-killer Ed Gein as a jumping off point for his 1959 novel, and less than a year after its publication, Hitchcock’s subversive adaptation hit theaters in 1960.

While most horror fans today would deem the film quaint, the movie is still a compelling classic. Hitchcock’s storytelling and style remain impeccable.

Through the first half of the movie, “Psycho” plays like noir, but takes a jolting turn once star Vivian Leigh checks into the Bates Motel. All of the sudden, the movie morphs into an early example of the slasher sub-genre.

The famous shower scene remains effective from Hitchcock’s masterful lens with the soundtrack’s staccato violin screeches accentuating every stab of the cross-dressing killer, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

Sound continues to be the key component of cinematic jump scares today. No director has done it better than Hitchcock, who mastered the tool more than 60 years ago. Even when you know it’s coming, it’s hard not to flinch, if just for a second.

Playing after Psycho are:

9 p.m. — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

This is the first sound adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic novella, and the one most critics label the best. The pre-code horror film was racy for its time, and features an Academy Award winning performance by Fredric March as the title characters. The next actor to win an Academy Award for a horror role was Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs,” 60 years later. Director Rouben Mamoulian deploys outstanding camera effects to depict Jekyll’s de-evolution into Mr. Hyde. The movie is a a little stagey like most pictures of the era, but remains a must see for a true horror fan.

11 p.m. — Poltergeist (1982)

Tobe Hunter (“The Texas Chainsaw Murders and “The Funhouse”) is credited for directing this creepy, updated version of a haunted-house movie, but interviews with the cast and crew years after the movie was completed all but pointed to producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg being the uncredited co-director if not the lead director of the film. Spielberg contractually could not be the director of note of another film while he was developing “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” for Universal, so Hunter played his proxy. Both Spielberg and Hunter denied this, but the film has Spielberg’s directorial fingerprints all over it.

1 a.m. — What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Director and producer Robert Aldrich’s black comedy/horror picture has to be seen to be believed. The movie pits golden-age movie queens Betty Davis and Joan Crawford — who had a real-life feud for decades —against each other as spinster sisters who take sibling rivalry to the moon and back in this still shocking but campy movie. It literally has to be seen to be believed.

3:15 a.m. — The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This James Whale masterpiece is considered by most to be the very best of the Universal horror movies, which have thrilled and chilled audiences from the 1920s up until this day.

The movie stands as one of the great Hollywood sequels, and it is one of a select few that actually surpasses the original in nearly every way.

That’s saying something because Whale’s 1931 “Frankenstein” is a landmark horror movie in its own right. I personally would rank “The Bride of Frankenstein” No. 1 and “Frankenstein” No. 2 among the Universal horrors.

A lot of that has to do with Boris Karloff brining life to the monster with two wonderful, yet very different performances, but director James Whale is the true star shining his light into those performances behind the camera.

Whale resisted directing the sequel, but he didn’t want anyone else doing it either. Despite his reluctance, he turned in his best film, which challenged the social mores of the the era, while still entertaining the masses.

Colin Clive returns from the original as the mad doctor and Karloff as his sympathetically loathsome creation. Elsa Lanchester is featured as the Bride and as well as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the writer of the novel that inspired the film, in a brief epilogue depicting the origin of her novel.

However the standout performance in the movie is by Ernest Thesiger as the malevolent Dr. Pretorius, who tempts/strong-arms Dr. Frankenstein back into the monster-making game, even after his horrific first results.