I don’t know about you, but “jaunty” can cover a lot of sins and do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to movies based on flimsy, or should we say “less traditional” narratives — games, for instance.
“Dungeons & Dragons” fits that bill, and “Honor Among Thieves,” the latest attempt to make that role-playing game a fantasy film franchise, hits that jaunty sweet spot more often than not.
Jaunty here is the difference between two hours and fourteen minutes of dull nonsense, and a movie that plays.
It’s got Chris Pine as Edgin “The Bard,” a singing, lute-playing “leader” of a gang on a quest. Yeah, everybody else wonders what it is about singing Pythonesque Medieval ballads and dance jigs that qualifies him to lead.
“I’m a planner. I make plans.”
With mottos like “We must never STOP failing, because when we do, we’ve failed,” you can see why a two-fisted, sword-slinging badass like Holga, played by career badass Michelle Rodriguez, might lose faith.
“What’s tryin’ to kill us this time?
Holga’s nickname is “The Barbarian.” Go figure. And the answer to her query might be a witch, a morbidly obese dragon, or an “owl bear.”
There’s also a bumbling wizard, Simon (Justice Smith) and a no-nonsense “tiefling Druid” Doric (Sophia Lillis) on this “team” on a quest to retrieve a relic and free Edgin’s daughter (Chloe Coleman) from the clutches of Edgin’s former partner, Forge, given an apologetically-menacing twinkle by Hugh Grant.
His ally in evil is the Red Witch, given a take-no-prisoners harpy edge by Daisy Head.
Edgin’s fresh out of prison, having taken the rap for Forge when a caper went wrong years before. In the intervening years Forge has become Lord Forge, a cunning ruler with possibly malevolent intent, no matter how much he smiles. And and it turns out he’s a much better father to young Kira than Edgin ever was.
So this is personal.
There are magical talismans and big CGI action beats and droll hijinks — casting a spell to question the dead to figure out who might have what they’re seeking. And every so often Led Zeppelin turns up on the soundtrack, because “D&D” really is the classic rock of games.
The co-writers/directors have “Horrible Bosses” and “Game Night” among their credits, and a winner of a “Spider-Man” script that they didn’t direct, so they know something about tone. Daley and Goldstein “get” jaunty.
Honestly, I had forgotten there was a whole other trilogy of “D&D” screen adaptations, with Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch and a few other noteworthies drawing a king’s ransom to star in them. And honestly, I have no doubt this one will be just as forgotten in its own due time.
But the ever-charming and self-effacing Pine, singing? And starring in ANOTHER movie in which he lets a woman fight his battles for him?
Rodriguez, Grant, “Bridgerton’s” Regé-Jean Page as a guide, advisor and ally? And Lillis (“It”)? And again, Chris Pine SINGING?
It’s not high art and not much for big thrills. But there’s no sense fighting how light and fun this is if you give yourself over to it.
Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action/violence and some language
Cast: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis, Justice Smith, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head and Hugh Grant.
Credits: Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, scripted by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein and Michael Gileo. A Paramount release.
Running time: 2:14