A film review by Craig J. Koban





2008, PG-13, 127 mins.


Jason Statham: Farmer / Ray Liotta: Gallian / John Rhys Davies: Merrick / Ron Pearlman: Norick / Claire Forlani: Solana / Leelee Sobieski: Muriella / Matthew Lillard: Duke Fallow / Burt Reynolds: King

Directed by Uwe Boll / Screenplay by Doug Taylor

I despise when films don’t even make an effort to try to be good.  

Case in point: The long-winded entitled IN THE NAME OF THE KING: AND DUNGEON SIEGE TALE.  Supreme awfulness haunts this film.  It stinks as bad as Gollum's breath.  It is the type effort where mediocrity comes from innumerable angles and lays dormant on the screen for all to see and chastise.  

This is a “fantasy”, but the only magic that it demonstrates is the calculating spell it places over the audience to rush for the theatre exits as quickly as possible when the final end credits get cued up.  Perhaps even more damaging is the fact that we get Ray Liotta howling his way through the single worst performance of his once gifted career.  Not only that, but there is no attempt whatsoever for him to try to adorn himself in suitable fantasyland garb.  At first glance, his baddie looks like the love child of Henry Hill and Hugh Hefner. 

This is my first exposure to the warped and soulless film world of Uwe Boll, and I sincerely hope that it will be my last.  He is a highly interesting director, if not a notorious one.  He’s of German descent and has a doctorate in literature.  The guy’s no dummy.  What he has gained is a reputation for is his unique manner of financing his films, most of which are based on video games.  Boll does not make films within the Hollywood system.  Instead, he is able to acquire funding and investors thanks to German tax laws that reward investment in film.  Amazingly, any German that invests in a local film production can write off 100 per cent of their proceeds as a tax reduction.  The only taxes that are paid occur if the film they invest in turns a profit.  If the film tanks and loses money, the investor gets a nice tax write-off. 

As a result, it should come as no surprise why Boll manages to get investors for all of his crap fests.  The tax sheltering is impenetrable, not to mention that most of his films have been box office poison, which does not hurt the investors either.  What’s astounding is that this guy manages to convince investors to keep funneling money into his talentless ventures.  Boll managed to secure an unpardonable $60 million dollars for IN THE NAME OF THE KING and nowhere does it feel apparent.  Clearly, the dough did not go to talent (I like Jason Statham and Ron Pearlman, mind you, but both do not command huge salaries, and certainly the likes of B-grade talent like Matthew Lillard, Kristina Loken, Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani and, yes, Burt Reynolds did not come a high cost).  What’s left is arguably reserved for visual effects and escapist spectacle.  To say the end results are unrelentingly disappointing is an understatement.  I’ve seen fan films online with better production values. 

Thank God for German Tax kickbacks. 

IN THE NAME OF THE KING attempts to be a bold and sprawling LORD OF THE RINGS epic, but if falls flat on its face with an incomprehensible storyline, flavorless and banal writing, alarmingly wooden performances, weakly cobbled together effects and set design, and, of course, Boll’s reliably terrible direction.  The only thing that could have made this film work is if it were mounted as a satire or parody of the genre.  Oh, there are plenty of laughs to be had here, but of the unintentional creed.  I howled at every line delivery of Liotta’s; I giggled at the first appearance of John-Rhys Davis, whose appearance here garners lamentable comparisons to his work in the LOTR, and I bowled over with laughter at the sight of Burt Reynolds, who just may be the most miscast King in the history of fantasy films.  I am not sure what’s more laughable:  Reynold’s spouting out throwaway dialogue like he has a gun pointed to his temple, his bad hairpiece, or his Botoxed and plastic surgery-riddled face, which has stripped the Bandit away of all of his former masculine bravado. 

The film, based on a video game (wow, who would have thunk it?!) begins with a farmer (Jason Statham, coming off relatively unscathed) named…Farmer…who lives a quaint agricultural life with his smoking hot wife, Solana (a bored stiff Claire Forlani, whose soul purpose here is to bend over frequently and reveal some ample, PG-13 cleavage) and his young son, Zeph (Colin Ford).  The chemistry between Statham and Forlani is not lacking, its vacant, especially when we are forced to sit through exchanges of mind-thumbing idiocy, like “There’s something I always wanted to tell you: I love you.”  Ouch.  

Anyhoo’, their lives are thrown a Tolkien-sized curveball when a band of ravenous krugs (which are the worst knock off of the LOTR orcs ever) attack their farm and brutally murder Farmer’s son and kidnap his babe of a wife.  The krugs are uninspiring in design and payoff: When they appear we are never truly given a close up of them, perhaps because of the sheer ineptitude of the makeup design.   Regardless, Farmer swears an oath to track down his trophy wife, find out who is behind this mess, and to rid the world of him once and for all.  Alas, in all large-scale civil wars, battle is beyond one lowly farmer, even if the farmer is incredibly gifted with any sharp weapon and apparently studies kung fu.  He is also able to defy gravity, as is the case in one jaw-droppingly dumb moment where he leaps on top the shoulders of the enemy, leaps from one krug to the next, to get to his prey.  Not bad for a farmer. 

As the film unravels we meet up with a slew of other supporting characters, none ever gaining much interest.  We meet more good guys in the form of the King (Reynolds, whose embarrassing turn here all but erodes the brief respectability he received with his Oscar-nominated work in BOOGIE NIGHTS eleven years ago), his obedient magician, Merick (Rhys Davis, doing what he can with nothing).  As to the magic that on display here…the details are murky and sketchy at best.  The most powerful necromancer seems to be the main villain, the before mentioned Liotta, playing the omnipotent and powerful Gallian.  His power seems unstoppable and insurmountable, not to mention his madness, which is evident based on Liotta’s over-the-top volume.  My single favorite line occurs during one climatic battle where he tells the hero, “You have no idea…how powerful madness can be!”  Perhaps almost as funny is when Reynolds’ King tries to rally his men by proclaiming, “Wisdom is our hammer!”  I would make sure that this wisdom hammer has a forged, stainless steel construction and a buff hickory handle, because Gallian’s madness seems really, really tough to penetrate. 

There are other players here for the ride, like Duke Fallow, the second in line for the King’s throne, played in a performance that reaches an annoyance threshold I thought was unachievable (his frantic body language, ridiculous facial expressions, and grating screen presence is a nice compliment to Liotta’s hammy work).  There is also Muriella (played by Leelee Sobieski, a female Keanu Reeves in the making), and the script never makes it clear who she is and what her purpose is.  At first, she seems to be the mistress of Gallian, then she appears to be Marick the magician’s daughter, then she appears to join the good guys.  I dunno.  Then there’s Kristina Loken (who was such great eye candy as the nasty Terminatrix in TERMINATOR 3) who plays a member of an enigmatic tree dwelling society that…well…hangs out in trees all day and hates humans.  Of course, every one of these characters converges to the final climatic conclusion with stunning predictability. 

IN THE NAME OF THE KING is the type of movie that Ed Wood would have made if he had a multi-million dollar budget.  Yet, even some of Wood’s schlock-infested films showed the filmmaker’s deep passion, whereas IN THE NAME OF THE KING does the opposite.  Yes, much can be criticized about the derivative script by Doug Taylor, but much of the burden of blame can unfailingly be placed at Boll’s feet.  His direction revels in patchiness, inconsistency, and emotionless energy, not to mention that individual scenes are so haphazardly juxtaposed and edited together so poorly that all narrative flow is destroyed (Boll’s frustrating habit of cutting away from one moment to another incongruent moment and then back are the types petty mistakes that even a person with no editorial skills could avoid).  His shooting style does fails to spice up even the shoddiest CGI effects, and there are numerous instances in the film.  The battle and fight scenes have some zip and spunk, but there’s simply no emotional angle here to invest in. 

There have also rarely been worse ensemble performances in a movie.  If you exclude Statham (whose dialed down approach makes him stand out apart from the rest) and the small morsel of gravitas Rhys Davies brings to the table, everyone else here seems hopelessly wretched.  Liotta and Reynolds are silly beyond belief, Lillard is simply a screen irritant, Forliani is simply gorgeous, but bland, and Sobieski’s flat and dull performance – combined with her equally miserable work in another 2008 turkey, 88 MINUTES – has elevated her to the disreputable pantheon of worst young actresses working today. 

To achieve a “zero star” rating on my part, a film has to be worthless from a moral and artistic prerogative.  IN THE NAME OF THE KING is most assuredly artistically bereft of insight and skill, but the film is too silly and innocuous to be deemed morally offensive.  Its only real offense is that it’s a crappy and ill-conceived LOTR rip-off that is indefensibly long.  It’s 127 minutes, but rumor has it that Boll wants to release a near three hour version (Heaven help us!) on DVD.   In the end, the most egregious aspect of the film is the shamefully unskilled man behind the camera.  Yet, Boll has a reason behind his films’ lack of success:  He shallowly claims that the reasons his films (and most other based on video games) are not adored by critics is because video game developers don’t support the properties once they’re sold off to filmmakers.  My response to this would be that the game companies rightfully engage in plausible deniability:  They want to separate themselves from this guy as much as possible.

Film fans feel the same way.  In April 2008 The Guardian Newspaper revealed that Boll promised to give up directing forever if a petition with enough signatures existed asking him to do just that.  The petition needs a million signatures.  As of May, there are nearly 290,000 on the list. 

Sign me up. 

  H O M E