Hot mutton for the Medieval Times crowd and unlikely catalyst for a Chaucer revival, A Knight’s Tale is at best harmless, if not quite fun. Heath Ledger plays Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein, né William Thatcher, a Cheapsider whose forged nobility allows him to compete in Europe’s hottest jousting tourneys, learning valuable life lessons along the way. Director Brian Helgeland wants to situate these contests as the 14th-century stop on the line from Circus Maximus to the WWF, but the sequences are so clunky and confusing you have to wait for the reaction shots to see how each round went. Scoring the fights to what is essentially the Meadowlands set list is less Pavlovian masterstroke than cruel and unusual punishment (if Queen makes you squirm, brace yourself for B.T.O.).
The vacuum that is Ledger needs to roll again for charisma, and nemesis Rufus Sewell seems downright appalled at the proceedings: When banqueters begin strutting to “Golden Years,” he heads for the exit with a look of pure nausea. As the object of their lances, newcomer Shannyn Sossamon sports increasingly bizarre headgear, and will play Lisa Bonet in the biopic, once I finish the script. The bright spot is Paul Bettany, whose historically dodgy turn as “Geoff” Chaucer is nevertheless as infectious as the plague.
Preteens entering the world of rock (and The Rock) will be powerless to resist A Knight’s Tale, and though I ever fear for our youth, and though nothing will excuse the Nike product placement, the movie at least keeps its violence mild and contains a digestible dose of “feminism.” (That our hero is yclept Thatcher, I leave to a more intrepid scholar.) But mulletless postpubescents may find that the uncreative anachronisms kiss more ers than that dude in the Miller’s Tale.
Meanwhile, Under Hellgate Bridge updates Wilde, suggesting that to lose one junkie brother may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Ryan (Michael Rodrick) gets out of stir and back to Astoria in time to bury JB1, and discovers that JB2, the unbearable, shaggy Eddie, is dealing for Vincent (Jonathan LaPaglia), all mechanical menace and equally dire facial hair. Turns out that Vincent not only precipitated JB1’s death by smack, but also married Ryan’s old flame, Karla. (To review: Vincent = bad guy.) Robotic acting and outtakes from the Stigmata soundtrack complement the perfunctory plot, while the dialogue indulges massive backstorytelling and desperate iteration (e.g., “Eddie, I’m sorry,” “Yeah, well—I’m sorry.” No, guys—I’m sorry!).
Restless viewers can marvel at the sheer number of Vincents involved: actors Vincent Pastore, Brian Vincent, and Frank Vincent; the aforementioned villain (called “Vin-cen-zo” once, for goombah cred); Rodrick resembles a diluted Vince Vaughn. (Vincent Gallo, all is forgiven.) Sopranos vet Dominic Chianese is squandered as a banal father confessor, as small-screen cohort Pastore explores new worlds of sedation. Fascinatingly, Chianese groomed his Vandyke (on display here) for a stage role as Luigi Pirandello; Under Hellgate Bridge might be retitled Three Characters in Search of a Barber.