Either iconically bad director Uwe Boll is one of the world's savviest businessmen, or he's in cahoots with the devil. Really, those are the only two plausible explanations for how he continues to receive financing for his films, cast them wall-to-wall with name actors, and see them through to wide theatrical releases. Boll's level of ineptitude is close to unparalleled in modern cinema, an obvious successor to the late Ed Wood's filmography in the way that it goes beyond amateurish and into a realm where it's almost charming in its heinousness. With Boll, what you see is what you get, and what you get is usually an incomprehensible, unintentionally laugh-filled bonanza shot through camera lenses that were apparently dunked in dirty dishwater right before each new shot.
Carrying his heftiest budget to date ($60-million), "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" should have been Uwe Boll's big chance to prove the naysayers wrong and make something special. Instead, it looks as if he used that money solely to buy the film rights to the "Dungeon Siege" video game property and bribe the cast members into showing up on the set. An incorrigible rip-off of "The Lord of the Rings
" had that epic Oscar-winning trilogy been helmed by an orangutan and acted out by virtual corpses, this creatively bankrupt vanity project is flawed to the point of viewer amusement. Surely, watching this would-be serious fantasy tale with an audience is the ideal situation; if one must put themselves through it, there's nothing like witnessing a crowd of people slowly turn on it to the point where scene after dramatic scene is met with nothing but guffaws.
In a medieval land that looks like Middle Earth by way of Monty Python, the boomerang-slinging Farmer (Jason Statham) is an, uh, turnip farmer whose wife, Solana (Claire Forlani), is kidnapped and whose beloved son, Zeph (Colin Ford), is murdered at the hands of a beastly race known as Krugs. Vowing to save his betrothed and seek vengeance for his child, he and a couple confidantesbrother-in-law Bastian (Will Sanderson) and trusting friend Norick (Ron Perlman)set out to hunt the Krugs down and defeat Gallian (Ray Liotta), the powerful sorcerer puppet-mastering his minions. Along the way, life-changing secrets are revealed and more allies rise up beside Farmer, among them King Konreid (Burt Reynolds), royal aide Merick (John Rhys-Davies), Merick's feisty daughter Muriella (Leelee Sobieski), and vine-swinging tree nymph Elora (Kristanna Loken).
"In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" would be irredeemable if not for its near-brilliant ability to give the viewer douche chills for 127 solid minutes. The story is flat, ham-fisted and senseless, with everything from Cirque du Soleil performers to masked ninjas unjustifiably popping up and disappearing within the same scene. The haphazard editing, overseen by what could only have been a blindfolded technician, throws continuity to the wind as it starts and ends scenes without rhyme, reason or clarity. One moment, Muriella is being chased across the countryside on horseback with a Krug in hot pursuit, and the next, she is fine and safe with nary a mention made of what happened.
Why stop there? Magical character abilities are invented on the fly, only revealing themselves when a situation calls for it. The acting runs the gamut from laughable to woeful, but is almost uniformly awful. The special effects look as chintzy as can be, as do the occasional still-wet matted backdrops. The action set-pieces are plainly forgettable and derivative, with a rainswept climactic one basically boiling down to dark figures wrestling around on a hill. The villainous Krugs, prone to setting themselves on fire and getting catapulted toward tree trunks, look like the Halloween costume versions of the Orcs from "The Lord of the Rings
." And, finally, the production design is a mixture of shoddy CGI with what one suspects must be Styrofoam.
What really takes the cake, though, is the writing. There isn't a single good line of dialogue to be heard, the characters (all of which have different accents) fumbling through clichéd medieval speech, what sounds like inconceivable double-talk, and, most awkwardly, modern-day slang (yes, one character really does utter the phrase, "Hip-hip-hizzah," while a shackled prisoner makes small talk with another by saying, "Where you from?"). The greatest bad line, though, is one that made me burst out into laughter, followed by a period where I valiantly tried to hold in my squeals, causing me to lose my breath and tear up. In response to a heart-to-heart chat wherein Merick drops him a pearl of existential wisdom, King Konreid ruefully exclaims, "What the hell does that mean?" The way in which the line is delivered is both priceless and unbelievably inappropriate.
The cast must have been offered huge salaries because there is no other excuse for their embarrassing participation. Besides, with the wildly varied acting going on here, they seem to know what a disaster they've gotten themselves into. As the heroic Farmer, Jason Statham (2007's "War
") shows zero emotion throughout and about the same amount of commitment. Never before has a father on film reacted with so little interest to his child's dead body laid before him. Matthew Lillard (2004's "Without a Paddle
"), as heir to the throne Duke Fallow, goes two steps above over-the-top. His nondescript accent changes in each scene, he spits and snivels whenever he can't remember a line, and overall just sort of seems sloshed.
As King Konreid, Burt Reynolds (2005's "The Dukes of Hazzard
"), wearing what would seem to be the mane of a poodle on his head, doesn't even bother to mask his disdain for the project. He looks so bored and pouty on camera that he frequently has trouble opening his mouth. When he does, it's comedy gold. Meanwhile, Ray Liotta (2007's "Wild Hogs
"), suited up in a ridiculous gold-studded magician's robe and ascot before switching over to a stylish leather jacket, gives new meaning to campiness as he more or less cackles over a bubbling cauldron. Of all the thespians onboard, Leelee Sobieski (2007's "The Wicker Man
") and Claire Forlani (2003's "The Medallion
") do the best job of hiding their perplexity over where their careers have taken them, but are still lost upon a screenplay (by the delusional Doug Taylor) that does them no favors.
"In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" is on a level even with the "quality" of director Uwe Boll's past movies2003's "House of the Dead
," 2005's "Alone in the Dark
" and 2006's "BloodRayne
"but is perhaps more despicable. Knowing that Boll raised a production budget most talented filmmakers could only dream about and still screwed up the results is unfair and actually infuriating. There are small oddball, totally accidental pleasures with watching a Boll monstrosity, and, who knows, maybe in fifty years his films will be looked at with reverence from a culty cinephile angle, the same way Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is today. Until then, however, one can only go on the evidence presented: "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" is pitiful, empty-headed, tedious, perplexing, plagiaristic, trashy, foolish and certain to be, in its own way, one of the funnier motion pictures of 2008.