Knight Lite

For a brief, hopeful moment, the wildly anachronistic "A Knight's Tale" promises to be a madcap romp. Here we are at a jousting tournament in medieval England, and as the armored knights charge each other on horseback the exuberant crowd sings along to the old Queen heavy-metal anthem "We Will Rock You." And does the wave!

Are we back in Monty Python land? We wish. "A Knight's Tale," which is about a servant boy named William Thatcher (Aussie heartthrob Heath Ledger) who passes himself off as nobleman Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, falls in love with a well-born maiden (Shannyn Sossamon) and kicks ass on the European jousting circuit, has none of the Python's anarchic spirit or wit. Or any real satirical point of view. The rock music is there, like everything else in writer-producer-director Brian Helgeland's ultracalculated movie, to keep its targeted audience happy. There are worse crimes than crowd pleasing, but at least do it with some finesse.

The movie's jousting scenes--and there are a lot of them--are botched on the most elementary level: half of the time you don't know who's who under the armor. The love story is a total fizzle. The inexperienced Sossamon is a dark beauty, but she turns the noblewoman Jocelyn into such a petulant party girl ("Your tunic is faabulous"), I was sure our hero was going to ditch her for the nice feminist blacksmith (Laura Fraser). Ledger made a deeper romantic impression in "10 Things I Hate About You." The movie's villain is the sneering, gratuitously evil Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), the only man to defeat our hero. Naturally, at the movie's end, the enemies face off in the Super Bowl of jousting tournaments (cue "We Are the Champions"), where Ledger's long-lost blind father turns up to cheer him on. That should be funny, except that Helgeland plays it for tears. Oh, well. Maybe you have to be 14 to find all of this terribly clever.

A Knight's TaleColumbia
Opens May 11