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"King Arthur"

Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Written by David Franzoni.
Starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd and Stellan Skarsgård.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  7/9/04


Another production featuring King Arthur, eh?  Those Knights of the Round Table seem to have a movie update every five years, and although I normally skip them, the lure of director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") and a Jerry Bruckheimer production was too much for me to ignore this time around.  And, once again, a PG-13 rating kills another swords-and-skirts bonanza by taming the violence to an almost unwatchable blur.

In "King Arthur", we get "the real story" behind Arthur (Clive Owen) and his band of mates as they go around completing quests on behalf of the kingdom, which in this film is for the Romans, who in 467 AD use Arthur and his team to protect a bishop and defend a castle from a bunch of crazed Saxons, led by a Jerry Garcia/The Dude cross named Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård).  When we meet Arthur, he's already lost about two-thirds of his Knights, so with the help of some crazy witch doctor named Merlin (Stephen Dillane) and his cultish followers--amongst them a waif-like hottie named Guinevere (Keira Knightley)--he attempts to take those nasty Saxons down.

Fuqua has had an interesting filmography:  after doing straight urban films like "The Replacement Killers" and "Training Day" (we'll forgive him for that Jamie Foxx flick "Bait"), it's an interesting change to see Fuqua--who grew up directing hip-hop videos and is black--direct a medieval action film like this one.  Much like Fuqua's so-so "Tears of the Sun", "King Arthur" suffers mostly when we are asked to suffer through some cheese as the men show us their camaraderie throughout the film, and we have a number of male bonding moments that always seem to make an appearance in the most average of action flicks.  It also doesn't help that Owen--a veteran of films that normally plays quieter characters and niche parts--is a bad selection to play Arthur.  He occasionally looks like he belongs in the part, but he just doesn't have the presence to be believed as an effective leader of men, or for that matter, even good enough to win a swordfight, since Owen is regularly subbed for a double in his action scenes (or so it seemed).  Scenes requiring his passion are better suited for parts like his role in "Gosford Park", but not here, where he gives a scream-to-the-sky moment all the emotions of a local radio traffic report.

The film bounces along well enough; the performance by Arthur's men carries us through many moments, and the few scenes featuring the Saxons allows us to catch Skarsgård spouting off lines like

"Burn them.  Burn them all." or
"Finally.  A man worth killing!"

But, he channels The Dude so well (you know what movie I'm talkin' about) in a couple of his scenes, you almost half expect somebody to dunk his head in a toilet for no reason.  He won't win any awards for this, but Skarsgård looks like he's having fun chewing on the proverbial hambone in a film that never stretches to reach beyond mediocrity.

"King Arthur" is a good-looking production, and I enjoyed the creativity behind the best action piece in the movie, a set piece featuring two warring sides and a big pool of ice in the middle.  The requisite "rain of fire arrows" scenes here add nothing to the annals of fire arrow sequences, but it was good to watch them anyway.

The film's violence throws this film down a full letter grade, as PG-13 continues to murder all things good about watching a guy get a sword in the chest.  Sorry, but you shouldn't be allowed to make these films anymore with PG-13 ratings unless you can figure out how to make gutting guys look as good as it did in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and even those guys did it well mostly because orcs, elephants and spiders got the axe, not real people.  In "King Arthur", you sometimes can't even tell if another guy got hit with a sword blow at all, and after being spoiled by "Braveheart" and every modern variation of this film since 1996, you just can't make films with swords and not show us scenes of guys getting their heads cut off!

As a result, this makes the action look cheap, it makes the kills cheap, it makes shots of bloodied swords silly, and it makes the requisite "open field of littered dead bodies" shots look inane.  How many times can I hear that silly, hyped-up sound of a sword being unsheathed, swung or parried and wonder

"Hey, did the sword hit a guy that time, or was somebody just putting it back in its sheath?"

"The Scorpion King" had the same problem, and it really dampens the action.  Otherwise, "King Arthur" is a decent-enough time at the movies...just don't pay full price.  You can thank me later.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09