As promised, Brian Helgeland’s new movie rocks.

A Hard Day's Knight 

As promised, Brian Helgeland’s new movie rocks.

Let us first in olden verse this critic's cynical curse disperse:

The greet unwashede consummethe crappe, Fro Jerrye Springgere to ganggsta rappe; Bothe yonge and olde, 'tis sore pitee, Doth foule thir hertes with drede teevee, Thus slye produceres, with bisynesse cunning, Devysde a shew to pyne come running Consummeres of actione and classik rok, And, with markete researche to fil the flok, The knaves of Sonye shal growe fat off it, As A Knight's Tale cleares a tidee proffite!

There. Now let's see, to blow out the remaining dregs of negativity, was there anything else to dislike about this movie? Well ... they could have cut about twenty minutes' worth of exploding lances (too much of a good thing, fellas) ... and the narrative parallels to the prettier and choppier Gladiator grow wearisome ... plus that silly singer Robbie Williams certainly hasn't earned the honor of a backing track from Queen. Besides a romantic quibble we'll attend to later, that's about it.

Having thus criticized, it's a thrill to celebrate an American movie that's smart, wry and awesome, all at once. One doesn't always opine harmoniously with venerable critic Peter Travers (now, what's that term again? Oh yeah: "quote-whore"), but his giddy appraisal employed in this movie's ad campaign is right on. Unabashedly formulaic though it is, this roguish adventure guarantees sylvan fun for everyone.

Like its cinematic forebears, Flash Gordon, Army of Darkness and Plunkett & MacLeane, this is a guys' adventure story that cares not a whit for convention. If seeing hundreds of medieval extras pound out Queen's "We Will Rock You" -- with Brian May's timeless solo emanating from cornets! -- doesn't jar your expectations, wait only a few moments to behold our fourteenth-century hero's woodsy training montage, set to War's "Low Rider."

The story's primary source is the Arthurian legend of Parsifal, which writer/director Brian Helgeland (Payback, oddly enough) clearly read about as closely as the Coen brothers read Homer's Odyssey to make O Brother, Where Art Thou? Just the basics, folks: Country lad struggles hard, becomes knight, is deemed way cool, wins stuff. Roll 'em!

The lad in question, of course, is Heath Ledger (Roar, The Patriot), who spends the opening minutes of the film transforming from lowly William Thatcher to grandiloquent Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland.

Friends include the uppity redhead Wat (Alan Tudyk, the uppity German from 28 Days) and corpulent Roland (Mark Addy, of The Full Monty). Skeptical at first, the fellows are suitably satisfied with William's first jousting victory to spend their share of the prize on eats, but the thatcher's son convinces them to tour with him as shouters of his glory, from Rouen to Lagny-sur-Marne and onward.

Joining the motley training outfit is an unemployed young scribe by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer (the superb Paul Bettany), whom they first encounter striding filthy and naked along a forest path.

Much of the fun of A Knight's Tale is in its simultaneous authenticity and loose-limbed quirkiness, best represented in the musical selections. While the Coens' veteran composer, Carter Burwell, provides a suitably glorious score to match the period settings, the temporal juxtapositions are the crowning achievement. It's very difficult to stifle the groovy pleasure when the opening notes of David Bowie's "Golden Years" first honk, almost imperceptibly, through a ballroom sequence. Such anachronisms don't feel cheesy at all; they feel like a glorious casting off of chronological fixedness.

Of course, none of this would fly if Helgeland and production designer Tony Burrough hadn't put their heads together to make this world feel remarkably real. From the tiny villages to the tournament sites, from massive cathedrals to old London, we would never guess how much time we're actually spending looking at Czechoslovakia and CG mattes.

The only exception comes with William's quest for romance. The pompous and cruel Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell, Dark City) provides ample antagonism, but the dueling gents' shared interest in saucy young noblewoman Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) makes no sense at all. One wants to knock some sense into William's head and tell him to redirect his manly lance toward Kate the blacksmith (Laura Fraser). Some knights just don't get it, do they?

That point aside, A Knight's Tale delivers more pageantry, countless humors and grand, old-fashioned storytelling than just about anything you're likely to see this year. God save the Queen, indeed. Huzzah!


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