Good, clean, stupid fun

There are many “jousting” jokes we could do about Heath Ledger, but the RN&R will not sink to such a level.

There are many “jousting” jokes we could do about Heath Ledger, but the RN&R will not sink to such a level.

Rated 4.0

As far as I’m concerned, The Mummy Returns can go screw. A Knight’s Tale is the action movie to see, and it kicks the coming summer movie season into high gear.

From the very first moment of the film, director Brian Helgeland (Oscar winner for his L.A. Confidential script) lets you know that his rousing film will not be a routine medieval knight story. With a remarkable, nutball stroke of originality, a violence-hungry, 14th century crowd awaits a jousting match, clapping hands to the beat of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

The moment gets one step weirder when we actually spy members of the crowd singing along with the chorus and rocking out, dispelling any notion that the tune is only playing on the soundtrack. The modern-day rock track is actually part of the 14th century action, a great moment of barrier-breaking, reckless filmmaking.

It’s just a wacko wink to show the parallel between past and present sporting event frenzy, and it’s a daring one that pays off. Helgeland doesn’t stop there, letting the soundtrack segue into David Bowie’s “Golden Years” during a formal dance and allowing the characters to perform modern steps. The beauty in these moments is that they are just goofy flashes, with most of the action, save for some trendy dialogue, remaining grounded in medieval times. It’s a lot of fun.

Following up his promising turn in last year’s The Patriot, Heath Ledger is proper leading-man material as William, a knight’s servant with big-time aspirations. When his boss dies on a riverside after a particularly nasty jousting match, William dons his armor and enters the arena of jousting and sword fighting.

A Knight’s Tale doesn’t skimp on the action, demonstrating many moments of knights slamming wooden poles into one another’s armor. Helgeland catches the brutality and exhilaration of the joust with the kind of raw energy that makes Gladiator look like a sandbox party. Lances explode in a shower of wood as stunt riders fly off their horses in slow motion, looking as if they are milliseconds away from life-threatening injury. How this production made it to the screen without killing anybody is beyond me.

The film delivers the action goods, and its dramatic moments benefit greatly from a strong, witty supporting cast. Mark Addy, who’s been stinking the place up since The Full Monty, is fun as one of William’s team members. Alan Tudyk, a red-haired, ferociously funny actor, steals almost every scene whenever his mouth opens. He will be fielding many offers after this film.

In another quirky touch, Geoff Chaucer (played by Paul Bettany), the real-life 14th century author of The Canterbury Tales, makes his way onto William’s team as an agent of sorts. Bettany has fun with the historical figure, introducing William’s matches with a “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” fervor, punctuating his speeches with statements such as “Thanks, I’ll be here all week!”

Former Reno resident Shannyn Sossamon makes the most of her first leading-lady role in a major motion picture as the object of William’s affection. Sossamon brings grace to a role that could be sappy in the hands of another. In short, she makes the most of her big break.

If you’re contemplating a movie night, and you haven’t wasted your money on that mummy garbage, give this one a try. A Knight’s Tale offers plenty of new twists for the action genre, combining its quality thrills with big laughs. While it’s nothing near Oscar bait, it is just what you’re looking for in a summer movie: good, clean, incredibly stupid fun. Bring on the empty-headed blockbusters!