A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2011

YOUR HIGHNESS j
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2011, R, 102 mins.

 

Thadeous: Danny McBride / Fabious: James Franco / Isabel: Natalie Portman / Julie: Toby Jones / Belladonna: Zooey Deschanel

Directed by David Gordon Green / Written by Danny McBride and Ben Best

YOUR HIGHNESS has been largely advertised as a comedy first and as a fantasy/action film a distant second.  Yet, it makes the categorical error of being a better fantasy than a comedy, which means that most of its gags and pratfalls fail to resonate and stand out.  The film certainly has affection for the types of disposable 1980’s medieval fantasies like KRULL and THE BEASTMASTER and wants to infuse that with dry humor akin to THE PRINCESS BRIDE.  The real problem with the film is that instead of being a smart and sophisticated raunchfest, it’s more of an unsophisticatedly puerile and juvenile raunchfest.   

YOUR HIGHNESS is not a film that feels like it was envisioned, written, and directed by adults; it largely feels hand tailored by horny, filthy minded, and unrefined pre-pubescent boys that love things like dragons, sword and sorcery battles, hot warrior women, shameless and gratuitous nudity, f-bomb-riddled dialogue galore, and jokes involving latent homophobia and smoking the reefer.   It’s okay for a film to be…uh…dirty, but I don’t like it when a film lacks creativity in its dirtiness.   

Take, for instance, the anachronistic manner that most of the film’s period characters mix Old English inflections with modern day vulgarity.  The irony of that, initially at least, is hilarious.  However, YOUR HIGHNESS makes one mistake of how to properly use lewd dialogue: obscene cursing works when it is used to accentuate the humor as a form of punctuation, but here the film uses it primarily to shock people into laughter.  The first few instances of seeing these characters uttering works both proper and foul is funny, but it becomes almost antagonistic as the film progresses.  The novelty of seeing period warriors, princes and princesses speak with unrelenting potty mouths grows stale pretty quick.  Exchanges involving boobs, penises, hetero and homo intercourse, rape, drugs, and all other things most crude quickly and lazily become the punchlines themselves.   

This is all a shame, because the film was written by the usually funny Danny McBride and his EASTBOUND & DOWN co-writer Ben Best, and these guys definitely have demonstrated how to combine high and low brow guffaws, but here they lack considerable discipline.  McBride stars in the film as Thadeous, a fat, lazy, unrefined, and weed-loving brother to the more handsome, debonair, courageous, and swashbuckling Fabious (James Franco).  Thadeous is most comfortable with kicking back with his servant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) by getting obscenely high and basking in his inner slackerdom, whereas his brother is a crusading hero for his people.  Fabious, obviously enough, is worshiped by his father and people, which leaves Thadeous always feeling like the unwanted and unloved black sheep of the family. 

After Fabious returns from his most recent mission he announces to all that he has found the woman of his dreams, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) and plans to wed her.  Unfortunately, on their lavish wedding day an evil and powerful warlock named Leezer (Justin Theroux) crashes the event and kidnaps Belladonna.  His end game is to take the virginal bride-to-be, impregnate her against her will, and thus fulfill an ancient prophecy.  Fabious decides that he must engage in a quest to save and rescue his beloved and rid the kingdom of Leezer once and for all, but his father insists that he take along his reluctant and weasel-minded sibling to make a man out of him and give him some much needed honor.  Along the way the brother duo eventually hook up with the Xena warrior princess-esque Isabel (Natalie Portman), who, after some initial disagreements and confrontations, decides to join the brothers out of mutual interest to slay Leezer.  Thadeous, however, becomes greatly distracted by his new comrade in arms, mostly because he wants to bed her.  Seeing as she’s played by Portman, could you blame him?  Not only is she hot, but she can kill guys with swords, arrows, and her fists.  Now that's sexy.  

I will say this about YOUR HIGHNESS: it at least does not sheepishly hide behind its hard R-rated debauchery and coarseness; it embraces it.  Yes, the film may be mindless and lacking imagination and wit with its smuttiness, but at least it refuses to take itself too seriously in the process.  Some of the individual performances are funny, like Theroux’s egomaniacal and selfish minded Merlin figure with an axe to grind.  Natalie Portman is also a decent surprise playing both a battle-hardened and more-than-capable warrior that mixes sultriness and toughness with sassy aplomb.  Danny McBride also deserves props – especially considering that he was the co-writer – for giving himself a role that makes him an arrogant, self-absorbed, meek, and filthy-minded asshole most of the time.  I like how McBride completely sheds any pretence of ego with playing parts like this: he simply does not care if he comes off looking good or not. 

The other performers are largely a mixed bag at best.  James Franco more than facilitates the status quo for playing up to Fabious' swagger, charm, and mischievous gallantry, but his performance is so stilted and wooden that I was left wondering whether that was a conscious decision on his part or not.  Considering his high-pedigree comic performance in THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Franco is a real disappointment here.  Then there is the always-sublime presence of Zooey Deschanel, but here she is given absolutely nothing tangible or important to do other than to be the perfunctory and heavy-cleavaged damsel-in-distress.  Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with her cleavage in the film, but would it have been too much to give her a developed heavy-cleavaged character to work with? 

I am sure that the reason she appears here is because both her and McBride worked together on an indie gem called ALL THE REAL GIRLS, which was directed by David Gordon Green, who also helmed YOUR HIGHNESS.  Green and McBride were also old college roommates and worked together on THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, which further explains their partnership here again.  Even though their past stoner-comedy partnership was a real scream, it’s kind of disheartening, in retrospect, to see how far Green’s career has fallen from being a major player in the realm of indie cinema.  This is the same auteur that once gave us GEORGE WASHINGTON, UNDERTOW, and SNOW ANGELS.  YOUR HIGHNESS makes his PINEAPPLE EXPRESS look like a model of temperance and sophisticated maturity.  Green’s laudable creative juices and sense of style are really nowhere to seen here.  He’s kind of just along for the ride. 

To be fair, YOUR HIGHNESS does have some laughs: I liked Fabious' robotic bird that is a funny echo of a similar creation in the original CLASH OF THE TITANS.  I also liked the reveal of Isabel’s metal chastity belt thong (talk about a double-tease!) and McBride's woefully wrongheaded attempts to get her in the sack.  I guess the laughs are just too scarce for the film's own good and, considering the noteworthy talent on board, YOUR HIGHNESS feels like a real squandered opportunity.  Just how wasteful?  This film utilizes millions of dollars on film craftsman and artisans to have scenes involving a minotaur with a raging erection and, worse yet, a scene concerning a magical, Yoda-like sage that imparts guidance on the Fabious and Thadeous, only to have it smoke tons on weed and request a kiss and hand job from the both of them. 

So, yeah, that wasteful. 

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