Your Highness is retarded.
And if we calculate in the factors of a $50-mil budget, the “it” status of the cast, and the creative prowess of the minds behind the film, Your Highness is impressively retarded at that. This is not an assbackwards compliment, but it also isn’t a dig. I am a lifelong aficionado of stupid cinema — I’m the guy who remorselessly put Hot Tub Time Machine on my Top 15 of 2010 list, after all. I think it is also relevant to note that I used to smoke a ton of weed, and that I love both Eastbound & Down and ridiculous swords ‘n’ sorcery films. In fact, a couple years ago I got baked as all get-out and attended an all day 5-film swords & sorcery marathon, which began with Barbarian Queen in the afternoon and concluded many moons later with Yor, The Hunter From the Future. Point being, Your Highness is tailor made for me. It’s almost like the movie gods reached into my brain and pulled out the distilled essence of something I want to see. I once joked about remaking Krull as a comedy. So I really, really wanted to like this film. Annnnnnnd…….. I mostly did.
I think Mr. Nick put it quite succinctly the other day when he stated that the film is just good enough that you won’t be disappointed. But not disappointed is about as much praise as I can give it.
Between this, Foot Fist Way, and Eastbound, I think it is safe to say that Danny McBride – who is Danny R. McBride as far as the WGA is concerned, because of the dude who wrote all the Underworld films – has developed a comedy model that really works for him. Like Fred Simmons and Kenny Powers before him, Thadeous is a boorish, self-centered, mean-spirited idiot without a single redeeming personality trait, who we nonetheless connect with purely due to the preternatural gravitational pull of Danny McBride’s fucking charm chops. Frankly, Thadeous is the biggest McBride shitbird yet. The second son of King Tallious (the fantastic character actor, Charles Dance), Thadeous is a constant disappointment. Sent to get a treaty signed by a village of dwarfs, he is almost hanged for trying to bone the dwarf king’s woman. Conversely, his older brother Fabious (James Franco) is the model of knightly virtue. Fabious returns to the castle not only with the head of a vanquished cyclops, but a beautiful and virginal bride, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel). On the day of Fabious and Belladonna’s wedding, the evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux) kidnaps Belladonna, for the purposes of deflowering her in a power-gaining ritual. Meanwhile, Thadeous had ditched his best man duties to go get stoned with his smarmy squire, Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker). When he returns his father forces him to join Fabious on a quest to rescue Belladonna. On said quest they cross paths with a beautiful and badass warrior chick, Isabel (Natalie Portman). They also jerk-off a tiny Yoda-like wizard puppet.
I can’t really talk about Your Highness in terms of what works and what doesn’t, because the film doesn’t actually fail in any particular area. Though its big successes are too few and far between for the film to become great. With an intentionally stupid, stoner-skewing film like this, a lot of the successes are going to be extremely subjective, but I think it is pretty safe to say that Justin Theroux is the one undeniable success of the film. Not only does Leezar have the lion share of great dialogue, but Theroux fucking brings the goods with gusto here. Theroux has been flirting with us for the past decade since Mulholland Dr., never quite showing up as the kind of character he can knock out of the park. Leezar is it. His scenes with Belladonna were my favorite parts of the film, and got the biggest laughs from me. Both characters are virgins (necessities of the ritual), and when Belladonna asks Leezar if he knows how to have sex, the smug confidence with which Theroux delivers “If your vagina is anything like my hand, there will be no problem,” is priceless. As are his musings of how useful owning a dragon would be.
My other favorite performance is Band of Brothers‘ Damian Lewis as Boremont, Fabious’ best-friend who feels continually slighted by Fabious’ affections for the ungrateful Thadious. Lewis is a great actor, and there is always something kind of amusing about seeing a serious actor hamming it up in a really dumb supporting role. Sadly, Boremont is not maximized as much as I would’ve liked.
As for the rest of the cast, Deschanel is pretty forgettable in her role (though looking uncharacteristically busty; I didn’t forget that). As always, she sings a song, which didn’t bother me because it contained James Franco’s funniest bit – joining and ruining the song with tone deafness (this is intentional and brilliant). Franco is good as usual in the film, but suffers from familiarity at this point I think. He’s getting over-exposed, and we’re seeing the same tricks too often. Danny McBride is dangerously close to this problem too. Having recently re-watched Season 2 of Eastbound, Thadeous plays exactly like Kenny Powers, but with a questionable accent and less verve. That isn’t meant to be a criticism of McBride. Eastbound is a niche show, and few in the mainstream saw Foot Fist Way. I think McBride should be showcasing what he does best with his first major leading film role. But, for those of us who have been on the McBride train for a few years now, it will feel like a rote performance.
Portman is fun, though largely a straight-man foil for Bride to embarrass himself in front of. Portman shot the film while prepping for Black Swan, and it certainly must have been interesting going over Aronofsky’s heady script in her trailer, then stepping onto the Your Highness set and having a minotaur penis stuck in her face take after take. Oh, the life of a popular actress.
Everyone in the film seems to be having fun, but none more so than director David Gordon Green. It’s kind of amazing to think of where Green’s career began, with small talkie indies like All the Real Girls (another pairing of Deschanel and McBride). Green really hits the action aspect of the film hard. A sequence featuring a horse-drawn carriage chase is legitimately kickass, and all the magic in the film is done with a serious intent (something I know our board members are quite concerned with). It was definitely a wise move to treat the fantasy elements seriously, and allow the comedy to come simply from the characters and situations. Yet, the look of the film left me wanting a little. This is a totally subjective gripe, but I wish the film felt more like the swords & sorcery films it was parodying. It lacks the misty soft tones those films had, as well as the fantastical sun-baked landscapes. This felt like a typical medieval world, with a few monsters thrown in, instead of a weird other world. That’s just me wanting what I want though. Otherwise the genre pillaging is decently spot on — in particular Fabious’ pet, a mechanical crow, and the ridiculous special sword Fabious needs to kill Leezar.
Your Highness is unabashedly R-rated. Thadious acquires a fashion accessory in the final third of the film that pretty much guarantees that this can never be shown on regular television. Yet, I’m a little surprised the film is pushing the stoner thing so hard, as weed barely factors into the film and strangely feels forced during the few instances that it is. It’s almost like McBride and co-writer Ben Best just loved the title so much that they figured they had to put weed in there somewhere. But considering the number of people out there with an aversion to stoner humor, it seems like a pointlessly marginalizing way to advertise the film. Though fear not stoners, you’ll clearly like this film. Looking back, I wish I’d been stoned while watching it. McBride and Best really milk their anachronistic angle (ie, McBride and Theroux talking like they’re from 2011 America; like yelling, “Quests suck!”) at every possible moment, which yields a largely lackluster, but at times hilarious 1:3 success ratio. Not great, but respectable. Your Highness can probably join the club of films like The Blues Brothers, in which a collective of hot comedians somehow talked a studio into giving them a huge chunk of change to make something so patently preposterous. Gotta give McBride props for that.
My straight-shooting recommendation to most people out there pinching their pennies is to wait and rent this film. But also realize that if no one supports this film in the theaters, it is going to be a black eye for Danny McBride. It is on your heads! I will close on probably the best compliment I can give the film, which is that I will very likely be rewatching it once it hits Netflix. Maybe while abusing a certain substance. I’m already desperate for more Theroux.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars