Throughout history, certain names have been spoken of in fear. From pagan gods to modern dictators, their evil deeds have earned them a reputation of loathing and terror so strong that generations look back and often wonder how they got away with the atrocities they committed.
In ten years time it’ll be hard to say whether we look back at German film director Uwe Boll with as much apprehension as modern cinemagoers who’ve been exposed to his films do, though its unequivocal that the man has inflicted torture on scale so grand that even a certain fellow countryman of his over half a century ago would have had a hard time matching it.
‘King’ is the fourth opus horribilis of Boll’s to have gotten an American theatrical release in recent years. With its $60 million budget it’s easily the most expensive of his efforts, as shown by the film’s frequent use of unconvincing but pretty CG background extensions. It’s also the dullest of the lot, lacking the sheer low-budget amateurism of zombie-filled “House of the Dead”, the jaw-droppingly ridiculous convoluted sci-fi trappings of “Alone in the Dark”, and the just plain campy leather clad vampire babe fun of “Bloodrayne”.
‘Siege’ tells of a farmer named ‘Farmer’ (Jason Statham) whose wife (Claire Forlani) and children are taken by a monstrous army horde – in this case a bunch of extras dressed in the spare Orc armor left over from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, roaming the countryside of a fantasy realm. The horde is controlled by an evil sorcerer (Ray Liotta) who’s in league with the put-upon young Duke (Matthew Lillard) of the realm to remove his majesty (Burt Reynolds) from the throne.
There’s elements of the plain ridiculous – our hero’s weapon of choice is a magical boomerang for instance, but it’s overwhelmed by the sheer gall of the filmmakers cribbing from other fantasy films. A fifteen-minute fight scene in the middle could very well have edited in shots from the end of “The Fellowship of the Ring” without anyone noticing. Same goes for another big battle scene three-quarters of the way through that does the same with the Helms Deep fight from “The Two Towers”. There’s one bit of creativity, a psychic multiple sword fight scene, but even that doesn’t seem particularly clever.
Whilst there’s nothing to match the brilliant miscasting of Tara Reid as a ancient historian in “Alone in the Dark”, ‘King’ certainly has its share of memorably terrible acting turns. Half the cast manage to come out of the mess intact – Statham, Ron Perlman as Farmer’s wise mentor, Will Sanderson as his not too bright brother-in-law, and John Rhys-Davies as the king’s magician certainly don’t stretch themselves but at least take their jobs professionally.
Kudos also to the few women here with Leelee Sobieski as the magicians psychically-endowed girl-turned-warrior daughter and Forlani delivering pretty good work even with the terrible material. Not so lucky is Kristanna Loken who shows up in a small role as the leader of a tribe of vine-swinging lesbian Amazonians. Loken takes her part so seriously that it’s hard not to laugh at her fierceness.
Burt Reynolds as the titular king is obviously there simply to collect a paycheck – and acts accordingly bored. The two however who stick out are Ray Liotta and Matthew Lillard as the bad guys of the bunch. Lillard turns his usual manic style of performance up to 11, often red faced and the veins of his neck throbbing with all the effort of his grimacing and whining. Liotta on the other hand camps it up like a big ol’ drag queen as the evil magician who spends a lot of time controlling the hordes by proxy through an admittedly cool ‘dark hurricane’ visual effect.
At times the visuals seem too good for a Boll movie, most likely the work of D.O.P. Mathias Neumann who does a good job of turning the West Canadian wilderness into a fantasy world. Everyone else however fails – the costumes look to have been taken from some old studio storage lot, the visual effects are picturesque but never effectively blend into the action, the editing is fumbled and often rushed, the overblown score often sounds like nails on a chalkboard, and the painfully bad scripting overflows with awkward speeches and predictable twists.
In many ways its a shame that Boll has improved in technique as his films have moved from the ‘so bad they’re good’ genre of high camp to the often dull ‘they’re just plain bad’ variety with this effort. It may be the most polished, but its also the dreariest. It’s a film that doesn’t need to be seen – by anyone. It’s not bad enough to warrant burning copies of, rather it’ll sit on the back of video store shelves for the rest of its time and that’s where it should stay.