REVIEW: Your Highness [2011]

Score: 3/10 | ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 102 minutes | Release Date: April 8th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): David Gordon Green
Writer(s): Danny McBride & Ben Best

“I want you to be gay with me and father”

I knew Your Highness was going to be bad, but I never anticipated just how much. I thought that no matter how horrible the trailers were, Danny McBride and James Franco re-teaming would make things tolerable. They helped support Seth Rogen’s stoner action flick, Pineapple Express, Franco’s complete absurdity and McBride’s acquired taste enhancing the writer’s formula we have come to love. While Rogen and partner Evan Goldberg have discovered mainstream appeal, though, McBride and co-scribe Ben Best are still on the fringe, hybridizing bone-dry humor with sexual vulgarity. It’s a combination that has garnered many fans as seen by the cult status of “Eastbown & Down” as well as The Foot Fist Way, but I can’t say I’ve joined the bandwagon. No, masking imbecility with Middle Age-speak and period costumes only makes the resulting work more juvenile. All I thought throughout was how much I wanted the old David Gordon Green back and this experiment into broad comedy to cease.

As lazy a plot as its lead Thadeous (McBride), Your Highness gives us a brief prologue to plant the seed of a knighthood bred to save the world from evildoers looking to bed a virgin and become dragon masters. Saying that without innuendo somehow still sounds like I used the plethora of on-the-nose sex talk this script is dripping with. The whole thing is littered with frat boy mentality, not-so-subtle jabs at marijuana and rampant swearing only making me confused as to the purpose of the film. I guess the best answer I can come up with is that it’s supposed to be completely random, rhyme and reason thrown out the window. It fails as a medieval fantasy epic yet is too specific a setting to be complete farce, its basis on the construct of two brothers—one strong and heroic (Franco’s Fabious), the other boorish, loud, and obnoxiously weak in spirit and strength—jealous of one another and needing each other to succeed somehow too simple for even its own paltry needs.

Fabious returns home with the head of the evil wizard Leezar’s (Justin Theroux) Cyclops and his captive virgin Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) on his arm. Hoping to wed this sheltered girl, imprisoned her whole life—she even pulls a Little Mermaid by brushing her hair with a fork at the dinner table—he asks his brother to be Best Man and looks to make his father, the King, proud. Thadeous, of course, decides to skip the ceremony in lieu of getting high with his oft-overlooked squire Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker), missing the attack that befalls the marriage. Leezar is more powerful than any could imagine and he is desperate to get his prisoner back to deflower her at the eclipse of two moons, finally fed up that Fabious has thwarted his plans and killed his monsters. So in he swoops, out he escapes, and the two princes are left the task of rescuing her and saving the kingdom. That might not seem too far-fetched for the eldest son, questing his favorite activity in the world, but for the screw-up it is the first dangerous journey he’s ever been forced to take.

And so the shovel-fed laughs and easy jokes commence. Well, they actually begin much earlier when Thadeous is about to be hung by a kingdom of dwarves for schtupping the queen. This is our introduction to his blank faced stare of disinterest, a noose around his neck made taut to strangle the life out of him. But as he falls, the realization a dwarf town is made dwarf size comes to the surface, the giant’s feet landing on ground for a dramatic escape depicted in a hand-drawn animated opening credit sequence. Yes, this is the type of ‘intelligent’ humor used throughout the film making it a veritable R-rated comedy for twelve-year olds. The saddest thing of all, though, is how many stoned co-eds probably love the dumbed-down laughs, each set-up simpler than the last and at the perfect speed for its target audience.

It’s not like there isn’t talent involved either; they are just wasted. I like McBride—a lot, actually—but he shouldn’t be allowed to headline any film, let alone one he wrote. His style is too off-putting, almost to the point where you start to think his goal is to see whether he can make a comedy you won’t want to laugh at. He’s doing a bang-up job if that is the case, but then maybe I’m not in the demographic he’s trying to reach. Perhaps it really is as simple to explain as telling myself I just don’t get it. I don’t. I’ll be the first to admit as much. But I do like to think I can understand the goal set forth, that I could appreciate what’s happening even if it fails miserably to mesh with my own sensibilities. I can’t give Your Highness the benefit of the doubt, though, it really is that bad. It’s all too earnest to forgive and the joke is stretched way too thin.

There are some bright spots amidst the wordplay and grade school humor of double entendres. I’m actually ashamed to say I thought the Great Wise Wizard was a hoot, his pedophilic Yoda so far out of left field that it works; Damian Lewis—one of the actors I shake my head at for his involvement—plays it big enough to appear he knows the whole thing is a sad joke; and Deschanel excels in being able to play the damsel in distress at full speed, her waif-like innocence fitting with the atmosphere perfectly. And while Natalie Portman is wasted as a plot pawn and butt of sexual jokes, the work by Toby Jones and Theroux is memorable. The former is great as Julie, the King and Prince’s humble servant with a personal secret as well as allegiance vagueness and the latter is a hoot as the über villain worthy of every smile he earns. Grinding up fairies to snort like cocaine, yelling ‘jumping’ as he jumps, and never taking one second of his performance seriously, Theroux proves even the worst art has redeeming characteristics.

Unfortunately, though, this is McBride’s show and he just isn’t up to the task. The jokes are lame, the plot is uninteresting, and there isn’t enough action to make us forget the faults displayed front and center. His schtick gets old as soon as he opens his mouth, the fluctuating of old-timey speech with a modern, unfunny emphasizing of jokes and his hubristic, self-centered buffoon isn’t enough to center an entire film around. I will give him credit for one thing, though. Somehow he got me to laugh at a Minotaur penis hanging from his neck as a trophy. A big part of the prop’s success comes from what Deschanel does with it, but McBride is the one who delivers the funny line in response.

[1] James Franco as Fabious, Zooey Deschanel as Belladonna and Danny McBride as Thadeous in Universal Pictures’ Your Highness.
[2] Justin Theroux star as Leezar in Universal Pictures’ Your Highness.
[3] Natalie Portman star as Isabel in Universal Pictures’ Your Highness.

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