'Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves' fun but gets carried away with itself | Movie review

Mar. 27—Know a couple of things going into "Dungeons & Dragon: Honor Among Thieves."

First and foremost, you need never have rolled a 20-sided die to enjoy the fantasy-comedy film, which hopes to cast a magical spell with audiences in theaters this week.

And worry not if you skipped 2000's highly forgettable and, well, largely forgotten "Dungeons & Dragons," the first stab at a big-screen adaptation of the board-game/improv storytelling hybrid created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson about 50 years ago.

"Honor Among Thieves" is typical fantasy fare: magic, creatures, medieval weaponry and the like.

This fresh adventure with new characters is a winner thanks largely to joyful writing from Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Michael Gilio and an expectedly engaging performance from Chris Pine, who leads an ensemble that also includes Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith and, last but not least, Hugh Grant.

Thanks to the production notes, we can tell you "Honor Among Thieves" is set within the geographical boundaries of the Forgotten Realms setting, introduced in 1987. And the tale begins with a visit to impressive Revel's End, a towering prison in the remote reaches of Icewind Dale, where on this day a winter storm rages.

Inside the prison, we meet Edgin Darvis (Pine), an extroverted bard who is knitting mittens while he awaits a pardon hearing for him and cellmate Holga (Michelle Rodriguez of the "Fast and Furious" franchise), a barbarian with whom he has a criminal history. A hulking creature of some sort is being added to their not-so-happy home, and after Edgin points out the amenities — essentially the bucket where, as he puts it, their pee freezes — Holga teaches the newbie a lesson about treating her with respect.

Soon, Edgin and Holga break out of Revel's End. The prison-break sequence is a good bit of fun, as is much of what follows.

They both desire to be reunited with Edgin's young daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman, "Big Little Lies"), for whom he made the mittens. She is now the ward of one of their former partners-in-crime, Forge Fitzwilliam (Grant), who has ascended to rule the great metropolis of Neverwinter with the help of a powerful Red Wizard, Sofina (Daisy Head, "Shadow and Bone"). Worse, Kira believes Edgin — whose wife had died when their daughter was too young to remember her — had abandoned her to go in search of riches, which, at least, isn't entirely true.

Forge, who has found he really appreciates having a child he can attempt to shape to his liking, happily promotes Kira's misconceptions.

After fleeing his attempt to kill them, Edgin and Holga seek help in rescuing Kira and taking down Forge and Sofina.

Agreeing to join their cause at different points — and with various degrees of reluctance — are Simon Aumar (Justice Smith, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"), a low-level sorcerer highly lacking in self-confidence; Doric (Sophia Lillis, the "It" movies), a shape-shifting Druid who mistrusts humans and barely recalls Simon's previous attempt to court her; and Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page, "The Gray Man"), a devoted and skilled paladin.

The stakes become very high not just for Edgin and his band of offbeat heroes but also for the people of Neverwinter. Nevertheless, Goldstein, Daley and Gilio — with Gilio and Chris McKay sharing credit for the story — keep things jaunty and jokey. For instance, they get plenty of mileage from the rigidness of Xenk, who doesn't understand colloquialisms.

"Talking to you is not great," Edgin quips.

Goldstein and Daley have co-written enjoyable movies including "Horrible Bosses" (2011) and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) and have had success directing the 2015 "Vacation" reboot and 2018's "Game Night." Here, though, they struggle a bit in the latest arena, often failing to make the most of opportunities both comedic and action-oriented. To be clear, they do an acceptable job, but portions of "Honor Among Thieves" rarely feel as strong as it could have been.

And then there's the fact that it stretches well beyond two hours, with a middle quest that, despite myriad clever components, is just too meaty. The movie's bones are that of a heist flick, but that skeleton is carrying too much weight.

If nothing else, though, you can always sit back and enjoy Pine, the veteran of three "Star Trek" movies and myriad other projects. Edgin's reactions to others — be it when Xenk is driving him nuts or Holga's reminding if he ever tries to take their relationship out of the realm of the platonic, she will cause him physical pain — go a long way toward keeping you invested in this fantastical endeavor.

In a lesser role, Grant ("The Undoing") is terrific, too, bringing all his .... Hugh Grant-iness to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, the visual effects, while not residing in the lofty air of last year's "Avatar: The Way of Water," are solid, digitally enhancing the pleasant scenery and conjuring creatures including an owlbear — as cool as it sounds — and a fairly chubby dragon. (This IS "Dungeons & Dragons," after all. Gotta have a dragon.)

The game is back in our minds thanks largely to its prevalence in Netflix's megahit series "Stranger Things," so it's no surprise to see it reborn on the big screen.

"Honor Among Thieves" isn't so good as to leave you desperate for a sequel, but another adventure with Edgin and the gang wouldn't be a curse, either.

'Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves'

Where: Theaters.

When: March 31.

Rated: PG-13 for fantasy action/violence and some language.

Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Stars (of four): 2.5.