'The Princess' review: Bloodily ever after

Joey King stars in badly misguided action thriller about a princess on the warpath.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Joey King goes from "The Kissing Booth" to killing machine in "The Princess," an action-packed and blood-splattered but braindead R-rated fairy tale that proves that all the ass-kicking in the world doesn't matter if you don't care about who's doing the kicking.  

That's the 22-year-old King, who is badly miscast as a limber brawler in this violent action fantasy, which has a body count as high as "John Wick's." Which begs the question, who is this movie for? It's for everyone who wanted "Rapunzel" but with way more blood, or who was waiting for Drew Barrymore to go all "Kill Bill" in "Ever After." Please, don't all raise your hands at once.  

Joey King and Ngô Thanh Vân in "The Princess."

King stars as, well, the Princess, the daughter of a king in an unnamed setting in an unspecified era (think of it generically as "Game of Thrones" time and move on) who is locked up at the top of a castle as Julius (Dominic Cooper), the man she left at the altar, attempts to overthrow her father's kingdom. The Princess, who we learn in flashback is a trained fighter, must battle her way down the castle tower and square off against all sorts of faceless foes along the way, rending the story somewhat of a video game staged geographically in reverse.  

The video game reference is apt because the script (by Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton) doesn't have much more depth than one, and the nearly non-stop and repetitive action scenes are buttressed by hazy flashback sequences that fill in gaps in the story, unfolding like non-playable sequences in a game. Then it's back to the fighting with King's character rarely stopping to speak, although when she does her English accent is less convincing than her impressive fight training.  

King was a goofball charmer in Netflix's "The Kissing Booth" and was stunning in the Hulu miniseries "The Act," but she has neither the posture or the conviction of a merciless fighter, and "The Princess" buries her bubbly, self-effacing humor. And she's given almost nothing to work with, dramatically, but to her credit and that of director Le-Van Kiet, the action moves fast, heavily inspired by the kinetic pacing of "Wick" and "Atomic Blonde."  

The problem is it's never any fun; licensed music could have given it an out-of-time contemporary flair (like "A Knight's Tale"), and even more blood would have made it an over-the-top celebration of excess. As it is, it doesn't go far enough, and once you see where it's headed you can plot out the beats almost to the minute. On the bright side, the next time there's a "Charlie's Angels" reboot, King is ready for the call. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Princess'

GRADE: D

Rated R: for strong/bloody violence and some language

Running time: 93 minutes

On Hulu