April 07, 2011

Your Highness

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Your Highness

FANTASY/COMEDY:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-04-08

Running Length:

1:43

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity,Sexual Content, Nudity, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Danny McBride, James Franco, Rasmus Hardiker, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Toby Jones, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis

Director:

David Gordon Green

Screenplay:

Danny R. McBride & Ben Best

Cinematography:

Tim Orr

Music:

Steve Jablonsky

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


When assessing the small motion picture sub-genre of the "fantasy comedy," it's necessary to acknowledge that the impregnable pinnacle is occupied by Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride, a classic whose prominence may never be challenged. Your Highness, David Gordon Green's entry, is more than a little distance down the slope. The problem with the film, which strives for a tone not unlike that of Piers Anthony's The Magic of Xanth series, is that, although it's a better fantasy than a comedy, it never fully embraces either side of its pedigree and ends up a piebald bastard. Green and his screenwriters (Ben Best and co-star Danny McBride) might have been more successful had they toned down some of the humor (too little of which is funny, anyway) and made Your Highness more of a straightforward homage to medieval quest adventures.

David Gordon Green has come a long way from his humble beginnings as the filmmaker responsible for the indie darlings George Washington and All the Real Girls. For Your Highness, the first movie for which Green has been given an opportunity to play with big budget special effects, he has brought along some of his past collaborators, including Danny McBride (All the Real Girls, Pineapple Express), Zooey Deschanel (All the Real Girls), and James Franco (Pineapple Express). Natalie Portman, undoubtedly prized because of her peerless British accent, is making her first excursion in a Green movie.

Thadeous (McBride) and Fabious (Franco) are the adult sons of King Tallious (Charles Dance). Fabious, the elder and heir to the throne, is a renowned warrior who has embarked upon many successful quests and proven his mettle in battles against monsters and wizards. Thadeous, the younger, spends his days drinking and getting stoned, whoring, and procrastinating. When we first encounter him, he is about to be executed for a sexual dalliance with the wife of the King of the Dwarves. He and his faithful manservant, Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker), escape that predicament through blind luck.

The kingdom is delighted when Fabious arrives from his most recent quest in the company of the beautiful Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), whom he intends to wed. However, the wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), from whose captivity she was rescued, steals her back. Fabious mounts a party to seek out the enchanted weapon capable of slaying Leezar, and the king orders Thadeous to accompany his brother. The journey starts badly when the knights accompanying the princes betray their masters. Things look up, however, when the brothers' paths cross with that of the warrior-woman Isabel (Natalie Portman), who has reasons of her own to want the enchanted sword.

Most of the humor in Your Highness is obvious, tepid, and often crude. There are some amusing one-liners but the majority of the comedy makes one realize how brilliant Monty Python and the Holy Grail is. The Pythons understood how to do this sort of thing right. A lot of the raunchy material in Your Highness seems awkward and juvenile, targeted at kids too young to see an R-rated movie. The fantasy aspect is straightforward Swords & Sorcery 101. Perhaps surprisingly, it works reasonably well until the lewd jokes get in the way, testifying to how durable fantasy clichés are. Still, despite some nice special effects, no one is going to mistake this for The Lord of the Rings.

Your Highness is not an actors' movie despite the presence of an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee. Based on his effort here, no one would believe James Franco possible of consideration for any kind of award except a Razzie. Fabious is like a lobotomized version of the character Franco played in Pineapple Express. His British accent makes Natalie Portman's seem polished. The scene with her wearing a thong (actually a chastity belt) is one of Your Highness' highlights, although with the way computers can add and remove clothing, who knows what we're really seeing? It's hard to judge Zooey Deschanel's accent because she barely has any dialogue. Danny McBride shows himself to be a good sport, playing a character he wrote to be an asshole. Although McBride doubtlessly created Thadeous with himself in mind, I can see Jack Black in the part. Or maybe Rob Schneider.

Unless you're offended by sophomoric sex jokes and the repeated use of profanity, Your Highness is passably entertaining. Yet, considering the talent involved on both sides of the camera, audiences may be expecting more - a lot more. Even though it emerges from an uncrowded genre in which the competition is sparse, Your Highness is forgettable and it likely won't take long before it is forgotten.

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