After being kicked around for a while, “Season of the Witch” — originally scheduled as one of 2010’s dumbest cheesefests — will now be one of 2011’s. You expect that a movie starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as medieval knights seeking to destroy a witch would be a lively, dopey train wreck, and in that regard it does not disappoint.
This is the kind of movie that entrepreneurs had in mind when they started opening theaters that serve alcohol. It’s the kind of movie that “Mystery Science Theater” would heckle, and that the SyFy Channel would play constantly between showings of “Mystery Science Theater.” This is how “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” would have turned out if it had been funny unintentionally instead of intentionally.
Cage and Perlman star as Behmen and Felson, two 14th-century Crusaders who cheerfully administer death to infidels (i.e., non-Catholics) while trading one-liners, “Bad Boys”-style. After a long day of battle, the buddies like to unwind by drinking ale and cavorting with wenches. Sure, they’re knights on a holy errand from God. But they’re also just a couple of bros!
Behmen, the slightly more noble one, is suddenly appalled one day when he has to kill an infidel who is a woman. The wholesale slaughter of non-Catholic men is one thing, and that was definitely what God commanded. But ladies?? Behmen draws the line there, and he’s sure God agrees with him. Having had enough of these lame Crusades, Behmen and Felson go AWOL.
In their travels, they stumble upon a village whose population has been decimated by the Black Plague. The local Cardinal (Christopher Lee) and his top scientists have determined that the plague was caused by a witch, whom they have also managed to apprehend. Now all they have to do is transport her to an abbey where the monks have a special book from which certain incantations must be read in order to destroy the witch and end the plague. This abbey is far away, however, and the journey is perilous. Behmen and Felson, now working freelance not unlike the A-Team, get roped into taking the gig.
The supposed witch, played by Claire Foy, is a Kristen Stewart-y teen who glowers at her captors through the bars of a wheeled cage, like the kind circus tigers travel in. A local con artist named Hagamar (Stephen Graham) is assigned to lead Behmen and Felson to the abbey (he knows the way), while a priest named Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore) and a soldier, Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), accompany them. Also along for the journey is Kay (Robert Sheehan), a young man who wants to become a knight and join the Crusades, which was very trendy in those days.
All the makings for a jaunty medieval road trip are here, including a rickety bridge over a deep canyon, CGI wolves that appear to have been summoned by teen witch, and disputes among the personnel over whether the girl is innocent, guilty, or just misunderstood. Cage remains very serious while Perlman serves as the jokier sidekick, one using formal diction while the other keeps it casual, both of them speaking almost entirely in anachronisms. (The screenplay, kicking around Hollywood for a decade, was written by Bragi Schut and feels like it ought to have been put in front of Brett Ratner at some point.)
Oh, it’s all pretty goofy, sure enough. The director, Dominic Sena (“Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Swordfish”), perhaps realizing the futility in treating the material seriously, doesn’t even try. A movie about 14th-century knights fighting the forces of evil could be exciting and scary — but not this one, not with these actors, not with this cornball script. Not with lines like “We must go. There is no hope here. Only the plague.” Not with Cage’s exclamation of “S**t!” when enemies descend upon him. Not, for that matter, with Cage being strangely less crazy than usual yet not sane, either. ‘Season of the Witch’ is, instead, perfectly harmless and reasonably enjoyable malarkey. It’s about as good as it tries to be, which isn’t very much at all.
C (1 hr., 35 min.; )