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'The Kid Who Would Be King' review: Endearing action-fantasy with earnest young cast

Louis Ashbourne Serkis stars in  "The Kid

Louis Ashbourne Serkis stars in  "The Kid Who Would Be King." Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/Kerry Brown

PLOT A modern-day schoolboy discovers he is the once and future king of England.

CAST Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson

RATED PG (peril and scary creatures)

LENGTH 2:00

BOTTOM LINE Not the epic spectacle it might wish, but an endearing action-fantasy nonetheless. Nice work from an earnest young cast.

In “The Kid Who Would Be King,” a modern-day schoolboy pulls the sword of Excalibur from a pile of rubble and finds himself thrust into a world of Arthurian legend. You might be tempted to bypass the movie based on that description — it’s been done, to say the least — but you’d be making a mistake. “The Kid Who Would Be King” may not be built upon the highest of concepts, but it does have a youthful spirit, an appealing dorkiness and that hard-to-define quality known as heart.

Written and directed by Joe Cornish, “The Kid Who Would Be King” lies somewhere between big-studio fantasy-adventure and scrappy independent film. Its hero, Alexander, is played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of the motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis (the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy), but the rest of the young actors are relatively (or completely) unknown. Rebecca Ferguson, of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, plays the villain Morgana, though she’s wrapped in latex tree-roots rather than swirling CGI imagery. Patrick Stewart pops up here and there as Merlin, dressed in — get this — an old Led Zeppelin tee. The overall effect is one of creativity on a budget, which is often the best kind.

Cornish, whose cult favorite “Attack the Block” dropped a bunch of street kids into an alien-invasion scenario, is on familiar ground here. His plot is intentionally routine: Alex must stop Morgana from triggering doomsday. What grabs us are the characters. We warm quickly to Alex — he’s bullied, but also a fighter — and to his loyal best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo, in his acting debut). Also impressive is the way Alex makes peace with his tormentors, Lance (a very good Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). The scenes of patience and forgiveness between these kids are far more memorable than the sword-fights and horse-chases.

The movie’s greatest discovery, at least for Americans, is Angus Imrie, son of the great English actress Celia Imrie. He plays a young Merlin trying in vain to pass as a “perfectly normal contemporary English schoolboy,” but of course he's a hopeless weirdo. His conjuring gestures look like Three Stooges hand routines. He’s a welcome presence with an appealing energy.

The movie has many noticeable rough spots: Stagey-looking battles, subpar lighting and so on. In a way, though, all of it just adds to the charm. “The Kid Who Would Be King” is an ugly duckling of a movie that’s well worth seeing.

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