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IN SHORT: Buy the really big popcorn. [Rated PG-13 for Action, Violence, Some Nudity and Brief Sex Related Dialogue. 130 minutes]
Long time readers know we usually put a warning up when we advise on popcorn buying. Most of the time it's to say don't buy the gigantor-sized combo, 'cuz you'll miss something important when you sneak off to the bathroom. That's not a problem with writer/director Brian Helgeland's A Knight's Tale which, fifteen minutes lighter would have gotten the warning. If you know Queen's "We Will Rock You" (if you've been off planet or haven't attended a sporting event in the last twenty years, just listen carefully to the lyrics of the first song you hear) you'll pretty much know the story.
Even knowing that bit of rock history, this Tale of a peasant who would be a Knight is a helluva lot of fun. Even with all the research the press notes say was done to make "every word ring true" most of it could have been tossed away. Even as Shakespeare could be relocated to the barrio, so could Saturday Night Fever flashback 600 years in time . . . Low class boy wants to be a Champion and get the untouchable girl of his dreams. It's been done a zillion times and works again and again as a great popcorn munching movie every summer. This time out you get a lot of teen friendly model-type faces and a very 90s attitude with sometimes sly and sometimes in your face humor that's very easy to sit through.
In 14th Century France, the summer jousting season has just begun. Crowds are slamming in the stalls. Noble knights are slamming lances and swords into each other's body armor, except for the old guy who has had the bad timing to drop dead minutes before his final match of the day, and a likely tournament championship. For his heralds, who need a victory so they can get some food in their bellies, it is near disaster. For William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), it is an opportunity to joust with the big boys -- if he can pass himself off as the boss. With the help of Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), William throws himself headfirst into the job. Literally. That night they can eat.
Or they can take their winnings, take a month off and try to pull the scam again, at a larger tournament. Roland and Wat prefer to eat -- if they get caught, the penalty is death -- but with the purchased aid of an itinerant writer named Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), documents attesting to the heritage of "Sir Ulrich of Gelderland" are created and a career is born. Yes, this is the "same" Chaucer who would create The Canterbury Tales. So little is known of Chaucer's life prior to the Tales that Helgeland goes to town with the blank slate. Then again, Helgeland goes to town with all of medieval history so go with the flow. Sir Ulrich is unique among the competing knights. He will take a knee for no man, which will become important as his creation eventually comes undone (as Hollywood storytelling rules decree it must).
Sir Ulrich's rise to fame would be pretty boring without a good foil (sic) and he meets his match in the arrogant, cowardly and cheating cur Adhemar, the Count of Anjou (Rufus Sewell) whom he battles both on and off the field. On the field for gold. Off the field for the love of the lovely Lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon). We don't have to tell you any more than that. Once the ball gets rolling, you'll pretty much figure everything out long in advance. The script isn't as deep as Helgeland's last project LA Confidential; this time out the man is looking to provide some serious fun, good laughs and enough heart tugging to make grown men and women cry. Mission accomplished.
Which brings us to the nonsensical controversy generated in the press about his decision to use rock 'n' roll songs in the movie. Frankly, the opening crescendos of "We Will Rock You," which accompany the title credits, work fine. From that point on its all down hill with disposable 80s rock and roll from War, Thin Lizzy, Bachman Turner Overdrive and so on. The one almost saving grace to the idea is a dance staged to a version of David Bowie's "Golden Years" that begins with a traditional (as traditional as can be conceived for a time when "classical" instruments didn't exist) instrumental overture. Had Bowie cut a new vocal to this arrangement, it would have been brilliant. But Helgeland jump cuts into the classic vinyl arrangement and creates yet another disposable moments. One of many. Chop a couple of those and audiences would be screaming "I want another ticket! Now!"
But he didn't. So buy the biggest combo you can afford.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to A Knight's Tale, he would have paid . . .
Note that we've had to adjust the ratings scale. An hour and a half or so in to our screening we were thinking, "Gee, only a week into the new scale and we've already got our first 'perfect nine'." But A Knight's Tale just kept going and going and going . . .
But we get to keep Heath Ledger's comments short and succint. Click here for StarTalk.
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