Review: Your Highness
PLOT: Lazy Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) has always been in the shadow of his noble, heroic, older brother Fabious (James Franco). When Fabious' virginal bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), the two mismatched brothers must join forces with a sexy warrior woman named Isabel (Natalie Portman) in order to reclaim Fabious' lost love and prevent their kingdom from being destroyed.
REVIEW: YOUR HIGHNESS is the latest film from David Gordon Green, who, once upon a time, was an acclaimed indie director known for his Terrence Malick-like dramas, including GEORGE WASHINGTON, UNDERTOW, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, and SNOW ANGELS. After scoring a big box-office success with THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Green has teamed up with Danny McBride to deliver this zany Mel Brooks-style spoof of sword and sorcery films.
To be sure, no one will ever confuse YOUR HIGHNESS with Green's soulful indie work, and frankly, to watch it you'd be amazed that it's even from the same director. I'd wager that Green's other big project with writer-star Danny McBride, the HBO series EASTBOUND & DOWN is actually more in line with his earlier films. Now, I'm not going to be one of those Green fans who bitch and moan about the fact that he's gone mainstream. Yes, I prefer his earlier films, but I suppose he has other types of larger-scale films he wants to make, so if he wants to have a ball with buddy McBride and do an affectionate homage to old-school fantasy flicks like THE BEASTMASTER and KRULL, I'm on-board. That said, I hope he goes back to the small scale dramas at some point....
The fact is, YOUR HIGHNESS is a very funny film. Slapstick spoof is a hard thing to do, particularly on a large-canvas like this. For example, one need only take a look at the atrocious YEAR ONE, or LAND OF THE LOST (which coincidentally also featured McBride). Sleek, state-of-the art special effects may look pretty, but they aren't funny, as the makers of those films found out.
YOUR HIGHNESS goes for a low-tech, Cannon-film type of approach, with the set looking (I believe) intentionally cheesy, and the CGI being less than top of the line. This keeps us firmly in a comical universe, and this never tries to be a straight adventure film, which, if they had tried, would have surely made this a disaster. Chuckles are the first order of business, and for a good seventy percent of the film I was in stitches.
Of course, it helps if you grew up with these cheesy adventure films, with this owing more to Lou Ferrigno, and the not-so-great KRULL than it does to LORD OF THE RINGS. Fans of (the original) CLASH OF THE TITANS will get a big kick out of Franco's mechanical pet bird, and I laughed myself silly every time it was on-screen. Yoda also gets a big shout out, when our heroes visits a rather perverted, weed smoking sage, that- in a clever gag- is clearly a puppet, and not a very elaborate one at that.
In sharp contrast to the cheesy-ass films it spoofs, YOUR HIGHNESS boasts an exceptionally A-list cast, with Natalie Portman having just won an Oscar, and James Franco having been nominated (we'll just forget about the fact he hosted). Portman looks like she's having the time of her life playing this sexy-warrior woman, constantly in search of some kind of quest to undertake. We all know she's a great dramatic actress, but this is probably the first time I've seen her be funny (although I missed the surprisingly well-reviewed NO STRINGS ATTACHED).
As for Franco, he's just a funny here as he was in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS or on his Funny or Die videos, and like Portman, he clearly seems to be having the time of his life playing the exceptionally well-coiffed Fabious. He also gets to repeatedly make out with the ultra-sexy Zooey Deschanel (who, channeling 'She & Him' also sings a duet with the hilariously tone-deaf Franco). Deschanel gets to play the requisite damsel in distress, but she's allowed to be far goofier than the average heroine, and she's a joy to watch (but really, when isn't she?).
Despite the big names involved, the real star of the film is Danny McBride, who also co-wrote. I like McBride a lot. He damn near stole PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and I'm a big FOOT FIST WAY fan. He's great, although the whole “I'm a stoner in this fantasy world” shtick goes on maybe a tad too long, but I'd say that's more of an overall problem with the film than one specifically with McBride. At 105 minutes, this is maybe 15-20 minutes too long, and the mid-section is a bit draggy, before picking up in the climax.
The real scene-stealer has to be our dastardly villain as played by Justin Theroux. He does a brilliant take off of the cheesy eighties villain, with his high-pitched, Nicol Williamson style affected speech. Walking out of the theatre, I overheard a lot of folks saying he was the best part of the film, and I must agree. A trio of usually dead-serious English actors, Toby Jones, Charles Dance, and Damian Lewis round out the cast. Lewis is particularly funny as Franco's jilted best-pal, with more than a bit of a man-crush on his comrade. Rasmus Hardiker, of SAXONDALE, gets a funny part as Thadeous' man-servant Courteney but I agree with Thadeous, triangle face is scary.
I'm a bit taken aback at the way critics have been savaging YOUR HIGHNESS, with it being nearly universally panned by mainstream critics, and the trades. I really don't get it. It's not a perfect film, but it's the funniest slapstick spoof I've seen in a long time, probably since at least THE NAKED GUN, or Mel Brooks' last good comedy (which I suppose would be MEN IN TIGHTS?). If you want a solid ninety minutes of chuckles, YOUR HIGHNESS is well-worth checking out this weekend.