BRIAN VINER reviews Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves review: You’ll love these Dragons – even if you haven’t played the game, says BRIAN VINER

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (12A, 134 mins)

Verdict: Surprisingly good fun 

Rating **** 

Tetris (15, 118 mins)

Verdict: Incredible true story

Rating **** 

Let me start with a confession. I have never played any video games (except one, of which more further down).

Indeed the role-playing Dungeons & Dragons (which admittedly originated as a tabletop game), has always seemed to me like the apotheosis of time-wasting, especially when played by grown-ups.

Mind you, I had to laugh when my wife, genuinely mystified, asked a friend in his 50s why he devotes so many hours to it. ‘Those orcs aren’t going to kill themselves,’ he replied in mock-solemn indignation. Whatever floats your longboat, I suppose. Much to my surprise, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves floated mine. I had sat down with trepidation.

It is witty, energetic, and, of particular importance to the likes of me, comprehensible. It is also very nicely cast. Pictured from left to right: Justice Smith as Simon, Chris Pine as Edgin, Sophia Lillis as Doric and Michelle Rodriguez as Holga

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is great family fun, and deserves to do solid box-office business, writes Brian Viner

For one thing, a previous effort, the 2000 film Dungeons & Dragons, was a dismal flop (and a career low for Jeremy Irons). For another, it seemed to me that the last thing cinema needs now is a new franchise – which this film is intended to launch – inspired by a fantasy game. Yet it soon won me over.

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It is witty, energetic, and, of particular importance to the likes of me, comprehensible. It is also very nicely cast. I’ve always wanted to call Chris Pine wooden but simply never can, and he’s perfect in the lead role as Edgin Darvis, who at the start of the story is serving prison time for ‘grand larceny and skulduggery’.

Edgin is a former member of the Harpers, a bunch of muscular worthies in the tradition of Robin Hood’s Merrie Men. But he lapsed into criminality since the violent death of his wife, and is now desperate to escape from bondage so he can be reunited with his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), whom he entrusted to his rascally accomplice Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant).

Ever since he grew too old for his floppy-haired boyish charm routine, Grant has become a much more interesting actor. He had truly exhausted the world’s supplies of diffidence. But here, as in the glorious Paddington 2 (2017), he makes a first-class baddie.

With Kira’s surrogate mother, his dear but platonic friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), Edgin duly escapes to find that Forge has risen in the world; he has used his roguish wiles to become the rich and powerful Lord of Neverwinter.

Since Forge’s change of fortunes, he has made Kira his devoted ward and turned her against her father. So Edgin must somehow outwit his old ally, regain his daughter’s trust, and if possible, awaken her real mother from the dead with an enchanted device that I forget the name of, although in my defence there are lots of enchanted devices in this film, almost as if someone raided JK Rowling’s unused-ideas cupboard.

Wherever the idea originated, I did like the ‘hither-thither staff’, which comes in notably handy as Edgin and his loyal band – also featuring a trainee sorcerer (Justice Smith), a female druid (Sophia Lillis) and another Harper, the noble, heroic but inveterately verbose Xenk (Rege-Jean Page) – seek to rehabilitate him in the eyes of his child.

To do so, they must overcome not just Forge but a far more formidable enemy in the form of the devilish red wizard Sofina (Daisy Head), which calls for some spectacular special effects. Writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who also collaborated on 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming) choreograph all this splendidly. It’s great family fun, and deserves to do solid box-office business.

Here, as in the glorious Paddington 2 (2017), Hugh Grant (pictured) makes a first-class baddie

Rege-Jean Page (pictured) stars as the noble, heroic but inveterately verbose Xenk

Tetris, by contrast, can be enjoyed at home, on Apple TV+. It too is inspired by a video game but not in the usual sense. This is the true story of how a game actually came into being, and how, from its humble beginnings in the brilliant mind of Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), an obscure computer engineer in mid-1980s Moscow, it became a global phenomenon.

It must be 25 years since I first came across Tetris — in which geometric shapes must be rearranged to form a solid wall. I knew about it because my wife’s maiden aunt, most improbably, was hooked. She spent hours with it on what, to the family’s delight, she mistakenly called her Play Boy. Before long, the rest of us became hooked, too.

In fact, she meant her Nintendo Game Boy, and the film shows how an engaging software salesman called Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) joined forces with the mighty Japanese company to outsmart others desperate to license Tetris, above all the monstrous Robert Maxwell (unnervingly brought back to life by Roger Allam).

He needed its money-making potential to help prop up what was, though only he knew it, his fast-bleeding media empire.

With poetic irony, as it turned out, a game about construction played a part in Maxwell’s destruction. It’s a heck of a tale, also starring Toby Jones and Ben Miles, with Anthony Boyle as a pricelessly insecure Kevin Maxwell, Robert’s son.

Taron Egerton plays software salesman Henk Rogers, who joined forces Nintendo to outsmart others desperate to licence Tetris

Much of it is set in Moscow, for which Glasgow and Aberdeen act as surprisingly good doppelgangers. There, the KGB, among others, also seek to exploit Pajitnov’s creation, spying on and even beating up those who get in their way.

As the film becomes a race-against-time thriller, the complexities of the rights up for grabs – arcade, console, hand-held – require concentration, shall we say. But writer Noah Pink and director Jon S. Baird (who made such a wonderful job of 2018’s Stan & Ollie) ensure that the story bowls along, with the Tetris brick motif ingeniously deployed as a kind of running gag. I loved it.

Jen and Adam are back for more daft sleuthing

Murder Mystery 2 (89 mins) 

Rating ***

The 2019 film Murder Mystery did well enough for Netflix to spawn this silly but likeable sequel, Murder Mystery 2, with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston again teaming up as husband-and-wife sleuths Nick and Audrey Spitz.

This time, they are invited to a fabulous island resort by their rich maharajah friend (the sublime but underused Adeel Akhtar) to celebrate his wedding… except that he’s soon kidnapped and whisked off to Paris. So that’s where they go, offering us another barrage of Parisian landmarks in the name of a daft action film just a week after the last one, in John Wick: Chapter 4.

Mark Strong plays a tough-as-nails British hostage negotiator, with Jodie Turner-Smith as the maharajah’s ex, but this film belongs to Sandler and Aniston and, more precisely, to their considerable comedic talents. It would be a feeble business without them, but they keep it watchable throughout. 

Jennifer Aniston as Audrey Spitz and Adam Sandler as Nick Spitz end up in Paris for Murder Mystery 2

Mummies (88 mins) 

Rating ** 

The same can’t be said of Mummies, a Spanish-made animation about a pair of ancient Egyptian mummies transported to modern-day London. Despite a fine British voice cast (Hugh Bonneville, Eleanor Tomlinson, Celia Imrie, Sean Bean), it plods along, dragged by its rather lumpen wit.

In The Middle (67 mins) 

Rating *** 

So a yellow card for Mummies, but I liked In The Middle, Greg Cruttwell’s affectionate documentary about football referees of all ages, colours and genders (including trans).

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