It does begin promisingly as lowly squire William (Heath Ledger) decides to take advantage of his master's death to don his armor and impersonate a knight, even though that profession is forbidden to those not of noble birth. Soon enough, William, as Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, is winning jousting matches all over France, en route to the world championships in London. If that terminology sounds modern, it's meant to be. "A Knight's Tale" delights in comparisons to present-day sport and, at its most inspired, utilizes obviously anachronistic rock songs, such as Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business" and Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are back in Town," to winning effect. Past that, it doesn't take any chances, eventually devolving into another tired variation on the story of the working-class underdog who makes it to the top and wins the heart of the fair maiden along the way.
It doesn't help that its leads, the likeable but dull Ledger and Rufus Sewell--far too obvious as Sir Ulrich's villainous opponent--fail to ignite the screen. If not for the fine supporting work of Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk as William's goofy squires, and Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer, author of "The Canterbury Tales," who crosses paths with William and his pals, there would be little to enjoy. Bettany's Chaucer, very much a medieval carnival pitch man, is especially delightful. Starring Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell and Mark Addy. Directed and written by Brian Helgeland. Produced by Tim Van Rellim, Todd Black and Brian Helgeland. A Columbia release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for action violence, some nudity and brief sex-related dialogue. Running time: 133 min