Let’s play a game. I’m going to tell a joke, you decide if it’s funny. Ready? Why did the chicken cross the road?
If you chortled at that, then have I got a movie for you. It’s called Your Highness, and in addition to a once ambitious director and a cast filled with actors who really should know better it features a script that never met a punchline it couldn’t replace with a swear word or a drug reference. Why build complicated gags when you can just say ‘fuck?’ Why give depth to your characters when you can just have them wear a severed cock around their neck? All the dirty words and phallic props in the world aren’t going to ruin a movie, but using them in place of real comedy, actual jokes, and smart writing sure as hell isn’t going to help.
A king has two sons of opposite worth who could only be related in Hollywood. Fabious (James Franco) is heroic, righteous, and fabulously coiffed while his brother Thadeous (Danny McBride) is foul-mouthed, portly, and socially retarded. One of Fabious’s many adventures nets him a fair maiden named Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, speaking barely a line or two more than she spoke in Avatar) who he plans to marry. Their happy day is spoiled when the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux) kidnaps her with plans to use her virginal vagina as a dragon egg incubator. The two brother set off on a quest to rescue the maiden and defeat the wizard, and along the way they meet a warrior woman named Isabel (Natalie Portman) and come face to face with danger, difficulty, and dicks.
Lots and lots of dicks.
To be fair there a few legitimately humorous bits of dialogue that I won’t repeat here for fear of spoiling some of the only laughs to be found in the film. They emanate mostly from Theroux’s wicked horndog of a wizard, and while it’s unclear if they’re improvised or straight from the page (written by McBride and Ben Best) the credit goes to his delivery. Theroux is actually the only performer to make much of an effort at all. McBride thinks a poorly executed accent and constant anachronistic fuck-bombs count as acting, Franco tries to play straight while simultaneously grinning out the side of his face, Deschanel barely speaks, and Portman may not even be getting the joke. Sure the thong shot is fun, but if you’ve seen the red-band trailer you’ve seen it all.
So if the comedy in the film is marginally funnier than testicular cancer and just as dick-related is there any area where the film excels? The short answer is no. But the slightly less short answer is kind of.
Fights are well choreographed and shot, but the film’s highlight is actually a carriage chase and assault that sees the camera move fluidly in and around the action as it races down the road with brawls happening above and behind. The scene is impressive and exciting and reminds the viewer that if the potty mouths were scrapped what remains would be a fairly solid homage to the fantasy films of the eighties. Heroes, villains, monsters, and maidens… they’re all here in their basic forms but hidden from view by the recognizable faces, unclothed breasteses, and hand jobs.
Speaking of hand jobs, the effects work here straddles a fine line between top notch and cheesy but it’s almost always right for the scene. From the puppet wizard who provides guidance in exchange for skin flute stimulation to a giant five-headed beast that erupts from the ground the effects are often wildly imaginative. The latter creature forms when a madman named Marteetee sticks his hand in a big bowl of mustard, and each finger becomes a reptilian head in the arena below. Of course, even this creatively executed scene is tainted by the thirteen year olds behind the script as four of the heads are cut off and only the middle finger remains. Did you catch that I said ‘taint’ there? Giggity giggity.
So what went wrong? Director David Gordon Green, once a respected and serious player in the indie world, became a Hollywood player a few years ago with Pineapple Express. That film also took an established genre (buddy action pic) and infused it with profanity and heavy drug use, but it succeeded thanks to real laughs, chemistry, and a bit of depth to the lead characters. It’s clear that Green and McBride have real love for films like The Sword & the Sorcerer, Conan the Barbarian, and The Beastmaster, but they bring only surface level affection to their new movie. Fantasy setting? Check. Magical creatures? Check. Engaging plo– aww fuck it, we’ll fill the rest of the movie with tits, cocks, and sex jokes. Maybe even toss in a child molestation gag for good measure…
The worst thing about it all is that after this lazy and mostly unfunny execution the odds of a witty and hilarious period comedy like Christopher Moore’s Fool being adapted for the screen grow tighter than a mouse’s ear. There will be an audience for this, but it will consist mostly of teenagers sneaking in to giggle at the boobs, weed, and dick jokes. Green and friends may have set out to make a fun, R-rated homage to the fantasy films they loved as kids, but the end result is a movie with better action and effects than those “classics” but far fewer laughs. And if you can’t be intentionally funnier than Krull you’ve got no business calling your movie a comedy.
The Upside: Action scenes surprisingly well done; practical effects are fun, cool, and effective
The Downside: Thinks everything is automatically funnier with references to sex or drugs; writing feels flat, uninspired, and lazy; settles for the basics of the genre instead of delving deeper
On the Side: It was a studio executive who suggested they go full boner with the Minotaur’s schlong