Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Oh, Uwe.

This review demands a prologue. Not because its subject, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, is of any great weight or depth; in reality the film is nothing more than a very poor Lord of the Rings rip-off. No, this review deserves a prologue because of the man, nay, the legend-in-the-making, behind its splendor: Uwe Boll.

Here’s an abbreviated biography for you. Boll bought up the film rights to a bunch of lower-end videogames a few years back, and he’s gone through them one by one, making some of the most god-awful films of the last decade. So far he’s “directed” five of these properties—House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, In the Name of the King and a straight-to-video BloodRayne sequel—but a quick look at his Internet Movie Database page shows that there is far more to come (including four more this year alone).

Each of these films has bombed terribly, both critically and commercially, and rightfully so. Everything, from the scripts to the acting to the scores, hell even the blocking, was laughable. And yet somehow, through the magic of some sort of tax loophole in Germany, he’s kept procuring bigger and bigger budgets.

Even more amazing than that, Boll managed to get a whole slew of name actors to appear in his dreck, including Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez and Sir Ben Kingsley, an Oscar winner. Under his inept direction, these performers have given the worst performances of their careers (I can only assume the paychecks were well worth it).

All the while, Boll has garnered a serious reputation as the worst filmmaker alive. Drawing unfavorable comparisons to Ed Wood, he’s elicited the scorn of the gaming community and pretty much become a punchline. At one point he even challenged a few of his more fervent critics to boxing matches (he blindsided all of them, as they had no idea he was an amateur boxer).

I consider myself a serious cinephile, and so I know I should despise Boll because he’s amassing money and talent that could be far better used elsewhere (give the guy credit, he’s a decent producer). However, against the odds, my friends and I have become fervent fans of the man we affectionately call Uwe. He may make terrible films, but he’s the king of guilty pleasure; his films are hilarious in ways that Walker, Texas Ranger doesn’t even begin to compare to it.
Take In the Name of King, for example. The beats of the story are okay: A sorcerer joins forces with the king’s evil relative to take over the kingdom and kills the son of an honest farmer in the process. The farmer (who turns out to be more than a farmer if you catch my drift) joins the king’s cause to rescue his kidnapped wife and save the kingdom. Throw in some epic battle scenes, a few comic side kicks and some family dynamics and you got yourself a movie. Sounds clich├ęd but not all that terrible, right?

However, Boll couldn’t just make himself a lame, but serviceable, movie. No, Boll had to inexplicably add ninjas, Cirque du Soleil jungle women and a ridiculously cheery score. He had to switch the color saturation midway through for no apparent reason and encourage a multitude of nonsensical editing choices. He had to commission a terrible script with horrible lines like, “Those who you fight, we will help you fight them” and direct every one of his performers to overact to the hilt. But you know what? Boll’s decisions to do these things took a film that could’ve been inane, and made it into an extremely fun experience.

The chief enjoyment in this film derives from the actors giving life to Doug Taylor’s terrible screenplay. With Jason Statham, John Rhys-Davies, Burt Reynolds, Matthew Lillard, Ron Pearlman, Brian J. White, Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani and Ray Liotta, the cast sounds solid. Some of them defy the odds, and manage to be just that: Statham (as the farmer called Farmer), Rhys-Davies (as the king’s right-hand mage) and White (as the king’s right-hand commander) all turn in competent work, and manage to not embarrass themselves.

However, everyone else is pretty damn terrible and, thus, enjoyable. Reynolds, who looks totally out of place in the setting and kingly garb, is an utter treat as King Konreid. At one point, upon hearing some mumbo-jumbo from Rhys-Davies, Reynolds hilariously responds with, “What the hell does that mean?” Might as well be a sly statement on half the stuff that happens in the film. Furthermore, Reynolds has what is potentially the funniest deathbed scene in memory, during which he talks about seaweed being good for crops and all sorts of crazy nonsense. It’s truly a sight to behold.

As the evil mage Gallian, Liotta is just as bad. To his credit, he brings intensity to the role, but his scenery chewing and reaction shots are pricelessly bad. The conviction he gives to lines like, “When I am king we won’t have a word for madness. We’ll just call it power,” makes them even loonier.

Lillard plays the conniving Duke Fallow and is also a “standout.” Playing most of his scenes like a drunk, he delivers a ridiculous portrayal that, in fairness, is intentionally meant to cull laughter. His character’s pointlessness (Gallian doesn’t actually need him), which I’m pretty sure is unintentional, does add to the proceedings.

To be fair yet again, this is Boll’s best movie to date, and he could be well on his way to making a mediocre movie, and then, fingers-crossed, a competent one. But for now, I’m happy that he’s churning out the total camp-goodness.

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