Saturday, September 24, 2011
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Damian Lewis, Rasmus Hardiker
Running Time: 102 min.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Your Highness is a colossal misfire made with somewhat admirable intentions. How disappointing it is would largely depend on your perspective going in. Looking at the cast and director it's difficult to imagine this failing but given this approach to the material I'm starting to wonder how it could have worked with ANY cast or director. It at least appears David Gordon Green set out to make a medieval impossible quest action adventure stoner comedy and that seven words are needed to describe the genre to which it belongs was probably the first sign of trouble. The real problem is the comedy. If this had just been a throwback fantasy along the lines of Willow or even The Princess Bride it would have worked and for a while it looks like that's the vibe Green's going for. Unfortunately, that's trumped by his insistence that juvenile sex jokes and profanity you'd overhear in a grade school cafeteria are hilarious because they're taking place within a medieval context. They're not, and it detracts from what little does work, resulting in a mostly unfunny mess. And that you can actually tell talented people were involved in the making of it just oddly makes it worse.
Thadeous (Danny McBride) and Fabious (James Franco) are sons of King Tallious, with Fabious having proven himself the more valiant and successful, earning his title as the rightful heir to the throne. Thadeous, on the other hand, is a lazy screw-up who spends most of his days womanizing, drinking and getting high as he watches in envy his brother claim all the glory. Fabious returns from his latest successful quest with the beautiful Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), whom he rescued from the clutches of the evil Leezar (Justin Theroux) and plans to marry. Crashing the wedding, Leezar steals he back planning to impregnate her with a dragon so he can finally take over the kingdom. With the help of his brother Fabious mounts a quest to get her back and take possession of a magic compass that will lead them to the fabled Sword of Unicorn, the only weapon capable slaying Leezar. Along the way they encounter Isabel (Natalie Portman), a warrior princess also seeking revenge against the wizard for her own reasons, but they'll have no choice but to trust her if they want any chance at successfully completing this quest.
This should have just been a straightforward fantasy with some light comedy. Hardly any of the crude jokes supply laughs and seem to come at the worst moments, completely taking you out of a story, which in truth, had some potential. The special effects are surprising impressive, some action sequences are good, Steve Jablonsky's score is perfect and it's hard to find fault in the plot which pays homage to the type of fantasy quest movies you'd see in the 1980's. Had Green copied that approach, he wouldn't have had anything terribly original, but at least it would have been welcome entertainment in a forgotten, under-appreciated genre . Throw on top of that a few actors any director would dream to have at their disposal and it becomes even more puzzling he squanders it all for the sake of having them curse and make lewd sex and masturbation jokes that aren't only unfunny and ruin the well choreographed action sequences, but about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head. Pineapple Express and it definitely isn't Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which seems to have had some kind of twisted influence on this project, though I'm still trying to figure out exactly how since it lacks even a fraction of that film's clever, subversive humor. Everything is broad and juvenile.
Some of the actors fare better than others, but they're all victims of material that does them few favors. James Franco looks like he'd rather be hosting the Oscars and given what he has to work with here I can't say I blame him. Danny McBride does exactly what's asked of him and what few do better in acting like a boarish, profanity spewing loser and while I can't say the performance is at all to blame for any the film's faults, I still wish he had a better outlet for his comedic talent than this. It's almost hard to believe Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel's paths have never crossed on screen until now and it should feel like a big deal. Instead, Zooey's an afterthought, looking bored and lifeless, not aided by the fact her character's barely given a line of dialogue. Portman makes much more of an impression and it wouldn't be off base to say she gives the film's most entertaining performance, as faint as that praise seems. At least she gets a few laughs and is right at home as a kick-ass warrior princess but unfortunately she doesn't show up until nearly an hour in and at times the wait feels excruciating.
The scariest thought rushing through my head while watching Your Highness was that there would have been a time where I would have laughed uncontrollably and forgiven all its flaws. While that time has clearly passed it would still be unfair of me to criticize anyone else who found enjoyment in it since there's a great deal of potential in the idea, even if Green abandons it in favor of aiming dirty jokes at an audience too young to see it anyway. But I don't think he "sold out," A film this bad could only be made by someone who believed completely in what they were doing. It just came out all wrong. A better idea might be to get the entire cast back together in a couple of years and re-shoot this as the epic dramatic fantasy it's crying out to be. It's nearly a guarantee that version would come out better, or at least supply more laughs.