Game on: Exceeding any reasonable expectations, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” turns out to be a whole lot of fun, serving up what amounts to a smart-alecky version of “The Lord of the Rings” that doesn’t require knowledge of the underlying game.
Employing ample special-effects wizardry in the service of what’s basically a comedy is a bold stroke, but even if it takes a little too long to play, this lighthearted adventure looks like a winner.
The film marks a step up in budget for “Game Night” directing team Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who share screenplay credit with Michael Gilio), but the story mirrors that irreverent tone, while smartly stripping the plot down to the basics and taking full advantage of its well-chosen cast.
Edgin (Chris Pine) and the fearsome Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) are a pair of thieves, having stumbled into that line of work to raise his daughter (Chloe Coleman, also seen in the recent release “65”), before the pair get tossed into prison for “grand larceny and skulduggery.”
When they finally escape, the pair find the girl in the clutches of their former colleague Forge (Hugh Grant), who has aligned himself with a mysterious and deadly wizard (Daisy Head) and assumed control of a powerful castle.
Edgin and Holga must thus embark on a quest in order to get the girl back, enlisting the help of a not-too-talented wizard, Simon (Justice Smith), and the shape-shifting Doric (“It” star Sophia Lillis), fighting off a series of threats as they seek the means of breaking into the castle to retrieve the kid.
Along the way, they encounter a dashing, swoon-worthy warrior, Xenk (“Bridgerton’s” Regé-Jean Page, offering a nice showcase of his leading-man credentials), who Edgin, naturally, immediately dislikes and resents.
There’s an unavoidably episodic nature to the story, but the movie does an admirable job of rapidly defining the characters. Pine – operating somewhere between Captain Kirk and his self-absorbed prince in “Into the Woods” – proves well-suited to the role of the roguish schemer surviving by his wits, and Rodriguez provides the perfect counterpart as his platonic pal and the muscle in the outfit, who prefers resolving disputes with a skillfully swung axe.
The lure of transforming toys and games into movies and TV is hardly a new one, including an earlier roll of the dice on this particular franchise in 2000. While the two properties otherwise have little in common, the appeal of HBO’s “The Last of Us” and now this (considerably less dour) adaptation offer a bit more hope that the cash grab associated with the practice doesn’t have to lead to a creative wasteland.
Ultimately, “Dungeons & Dragons” delivers enough laughs and thrills to justify braving a trip to the theater. And for these purposes, that’s game, set and match.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” premieres March 31 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.