Film Review: ‘Your Highness’

Your Highness is the movie equivalent of Mongolian BBQ: You get your plate and come to the first station, the meat.

There are some things you feel comfortable with, like the chicken (James Franco) and the lamb (Natalie Portman), some things that, sure, you could go for, like the lovely push-up-bra-wearing mahi-mahi (Zooey Deschanel), and then there’s the weird stuff you’re not certain you’ve heard of, like the surimi (Justin Theroux) and the calamari (Danny McBride), which you nevertheless feel obligated to try because, hey, you’re at the Mongolian BBQ, and you wouldn’t be here unless you were trying to try new things.

Then you get to the veggies. You have no idea what combination works with what, so you toss in some of everything–water chestnuts (R-rated sight gags), bean sprouts (stoner humor), edamame (dirty puns), and then you decide “What the Hell?” and go full Mongoloid by cramming in a bunch of peppers and drenching it in spicy buffalo and Tzatzihi sauce (foul, foul language, boobies, five-headed dragons…) to make it (hopefully) interesting.

And after it’s all been worked up, you’re served with something that’s surprisingly tolerable at first, but tastes a little ickier with each successive bite.

And that’s basically Your Highness. A more literal summary would be this: McBride is Prince Thadeous, the stoner wash-out, whore-sampling slob of a younger brother to Prince Fabious (Franco), the dashing, daring, do-gooding, daddy’s favorite who, back from his latest rollicking adventure, has rescued the lusciously curvy Belladonna (Deschanel) and means to take her as his virgin bride. Unfortunately, so has Leezar (Theroux), the evil sorcerer who wants to impregnate that sexy push-up bra so she can birth a dragon, which will presumably give Leezar command/dominion over the kingdom.

Thusly, Fab and Thad (and Thad’s paige Courtney [Rasmus Hardiker]) set out on a quest to re-rescue Belladonna, along the way encountering any number of strange and terrible beasts (bare-breasted or otherwise), perverted wise men, angry dwarves, treacherous kinsmen, uppity fauns, and, of course, Natalie Portman (a block of wood).

The director, David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, All the Real Girls), and writers McBride and Ben Best, know their low, low material and crafted it to perfection in the fantastically funny and oddly touching television series Eastbound & Down, as well as in Pineapple and the underrated Observe and Report (written and directed by Jody Hill, the third member of McBride and Best’s group) but here something’s missing.

I think it’s the characters. What worked so well previously was the gang’s fascination with the utter dregs of humanity and the fun they had reveling in their coarseness yet elevating them to semi-decent people by imbuing a few noble traits. In other words, humanizing the inhumanable.

Your Highness isn’t interested in that, and would prefer to just stick to the crudities, abandoning much of McBride and Best’s greatest strengths. Granted they can do crude really damn well, but it’s not enough.

The other problem is that the film lists back and forth between trying to advance the story and fitting in jokes, doing one at the expense of the other. We get some exposition, then there’s another place they must visit, then a pause for some gags while they’re trying to get there, then they get there, and then it’s a setup for another skit, and repeat.

McBride is good, but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself and keeps a grumpy demeanor throughout that brings down the stupid fun. Franco and Portman are well cast as caricatures of themselves (particularly Portman, who, though I rag on her a lot [it’s out of love; we Nats need to watch out for each other], is quite good as a straight woman), but there isn’t much for anyone else–Theroux, Deschanel, and the talented Charles Dance. Theroux and Deschanel’s back and forths (so few, and so short) are such delights, I’d buy the DVD simply on the prospect that there would be more of them, and longer.

In all, the bulk of the humor comes from the shock of incorporating modern-day vulgarities into medieval speech, and, as expected, the shock wears off quickly, but some of it is so creative and unexpected that it’ll get a laugh right when the movie needs it. Likewise, there’s two very inspired (albeit easily foreseen) sight gags featuring a dwarven gallows and a Minotaur, and all this is just almost enough to hold Your Highness together. The opening credits are not bad, either.

I laughed at Your Highness more than I did at Paul (and certainly more than the curmudgeony critic to my right), but, and this is coming from a big fan of the collaborative, you’re better off waiting for the rental.

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