Monday, 17 August 2015

Knightriders (1981)

I like that this movie has the courage to have characters who strongly oppose one another, without casting one side as the heroes and the others as the villains.  The closest the film comes to a 'bad guy' is in one of the supporting cast.  It's a pretty bold and interesting choice; it's certainly not every day you see a movie where after their battle is done, the antagonists share a friendly hug.

Unfortunately, this is also a movie that fails on a number of other fronts.  The two most important though, are:

1. there's pretty much nobody in this movie who isn't a jackass; and
2. what they're all fighting over is frankly kind of dumb

So what the film presents us with is a group of people who have decided to reject what they see as the corrupt and venal life of ordinary society and embrace the dream of a more noble age: the age of Camelot.  They do this by travelling around the country as a kind of Renaissance Fair deal, except that they do their jousting from motorcycles, not horses.  Their leader is "King" William, who holds the position because the whole thing was his idea, but who can be replaced if he is ever made to yield in combat.

Now you may be thinking "So they reject modern society in favour of (re-)creating one with an explicit caste system, where leadership is definitionally determined by physical force?".  I sure was.  Through most of the movie, I was trying to work out if the film was deliberately painting the characters as completely lacking in self-awareness, or whether the lack lay with the writers.  Alas, I tend to think it was the latter.

"King" William (Billy, to his friends) is something of a petulant prima donna.  One of the first things we see him do is self-flagellation, to give you an idea of the kind of person we're talking about.  Alas, his potential usurper, Morgan, is a philandering jackass, so he's not exactly someone you'd want to be cheering on either.

The catalyst that brings this incipient rivalry into open conflict is the 'bad guy' I mentioned before: a talent agent who has visions of turning the troupe into a highly choreographed arena show.  Medieval pro-wrestling, basically.  Billy hates the idea, considering it anathema to his entire philosophy.  Morgan on the other hand is a fan of the idea, and so the battle lines - such as they are, anyway - are drawn.

Like I said, there's not really a villain here (though there are plenty of jerks), so the plot will likely surprise you in how it unfolds.  On the other hand, at 145 minutes in length, it's probably close to a half-hour too long, and the final ten minutes in particular seem very indulgent.  I'm reminded of Easy Rider, and if you've read my review of that film, you'll know that's not a positive comparison.

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