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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Go With ‘Your Highness’ On A Raunchy, Fantasy Ride For The Ridiculous

Your Highness = 3 ½ out of 5
Thadeous:  I shouldn't even be here!  I will probably die on this quest, and Courtney definitely will!
The idea and powers at work behind Your Highness give the impression of a juicy premise.  The film is a different take on fantasy/adventure films, incorporating comedic actors, heavy improvisation, and modern language.  It has the right kind of scope and old school style handling of the action and creatures, yet it is also ridiculous, filthy, and very R-rated throughout.  This film easily functions as a stoner comedy, supporting a lot of both high and very low brow humor.  As it stands, the film is frequently funny, even with its reliance on dick jokes.  It certainly has a lot of hit-or-miss moments, but I always tend to enjoy a movie that is very giggle-inducing.  The fact that this movie managed to blend swords and sorcery with, actor/writer, Danny McBride’s sensibilities was plenty to keep me on board with this film.

The film is set in a medieval world, where evil exists in the form of wizards and vile creatures.  There are of course knights who set out on quests to rid the world of these foes and save damsels in distress.  Among those knights is Fabious (James Franco), son of King Tallious (Charls Dance), who has just returned from his latest quest, fighting off one of the minions of the nefarious Leezar (Justin Theroux).  Fabious has brought back with him the lovely Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), a simple, virginal girl that Fabious has rescued during his quest, with intentions to marry her.  This is all well and good, except that Leezar appears on the wedding day, zaps some magic, and kidnaps Belladonna for his own purposes.


This event of course means that Fabious will set out on another quest to rescue his stolen fiancé, but not alone.  No, Fabioius plans to bring his younger brother along, who is in fact that the hero of this film.  I am referring to Thadeous (Danny McBride), who is looked at as the lesser of the two brothers, mainly due to his childish attitude and rude behavior.  Still, Thadeous has yet to go on one of his brother’s epic quests, so he reluctantly agrees to go, along with his loyal servant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker).

During their journey, Thadeous and Fabious encounter a number of different characters, obstacles, and creatures, including a Minotaur, evil, naked nymphs, finger monsters (yes), a druggy, pedophile fish creature (double yes), and a very sexy Natalie Portman in the form of a warrior princess, Isabel.  This all comes with the territory (because why wouldn’t it), but our heroes must progress successfully if they want to have any chance of stopping Leezar before he uses Bellodonna to complete a ritual known as “The F**kening.”
Leezar:  I'm here to steal a beautiful virgin that looks just.  Like.  Her.
Fabious:  And how do you plan to do that?
Leezar:  Magic… Motherf**ker.

Much like another film opening this week, Arthur, I believe that liking Your Highness will very much depend on how much you like the lead star.  Danny McBride has been a supporting player in films such as Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, but is best known as Kenny ‘F-ing’ Powers on the darkly hilarious HBO comedy series, Eastbound and Down.  Both in that series and in this film (and most of his roles overall), McBride plays characters that are incredibly boastful, insulting of others, and proud to show off, despite never really actually having much to offer.  What makes it work is that, deep down, his characters know how full of it they actually are, which makes them seem all the more human.  It is a type of character that can easily rub someone the wrong way, but others will just continue to find hilarious.  I am one of the people that really enjoy McBride’s antics.

Getting past that aspect, the rest of the film is a ridiculous series of events that I can see being both hated by many and praised for their hilarity by others.  I think the strength of this film relies on how well the premise is approached and the tone they strive for.  Sticking with the style of other homage-based films, such as the recent Paul, Hot Fuzz, or even some of the films of Mel Brooks, Your Highness works well as a comedy that plays to the themes of an actual fantasy/adventure film, while also poking fun at the genre.  Those who are familiar with films like Conan: the Barbarian, Beastmaster, or Dragonslayer should easily recognize a lot of what this film is playing off of.  With all of that in mind, the film makes every attempt to throw something new and crude your way.


The characters all do their part to play things completely straight, even while adopting intentionally ridiculous British accents.  The accents mixed with the use of modern colloquialisms only strengthen the film in its lunacy.  As far as other bits of lunacy go, take Portman’s character for instance, who has to deliver a back-story that leads to why she is so used to slaying almost anything in her path and handling every situation with extreme prejudice, which becomes more and more bizarre.  She is clearly having fun in this role and seems better suited here than she did in her boring romantic comedy from back in January.  In addition to her, I really enjoyed James Franco playing a courageously earnest hero character, who is almost all smiles, except when it comes to facing any sort of foe.  Having other notably serious English actors such as Toby Jones and Damian Lewis in roles that are anything but only adds to the proceedings.  Deschanel is given the shortest end of the stick in this film, as she has next to nothing to do, besides be threatened with “The F**kening,” but she is at least adorable to watch.  My favorite character might have been Theroux as Leezar, who plays his evil wizard as a child-like rock star.


McBride also co-wrote the film along with his collaborator Ben Best.  The two are also responsible for Eastbound and Down, and this film definitely represents their comedic sensibilities.  It should be interesting to note that the script was reportedly more of a general outline, with all of the actors heavily improvising their lines throughout.  Regardless of how effective one finds the comedy, the actors all at least seem to have a strong enough chemistry in the film, whether it is natural or drug induced in some way.

Director David Gordon Green, who used to make very good independent dramas, such as All the Real Girls, before being lured to the dark side to make a mainstream comedy – Pineapple Express, seems to have the appropriate handle for making this function as a proper genre film.  Shot in Northern Ireland, this film has the look of a grand adventure film, with Steve Jablonsky’s score also serving to emphasize this.  The retro (almost Ghostbuster-looking) effects manage to further set this movie among the films it is indebted to.  Overall, from a direction stand point, despite being a comedy, the film does work as an adventure film.  It should also be noted that the action beats tend to lead down a surprisingly gory path.


Again, the way the comedy is handled in this film is what will determine one’s overall thoughts on the film.  It is hard to gage what general feelings will be, as everyone is of course different.  I can say that I laughed a lot, but I also acknowledge that the film has many moments that are hit-or-miss.  Particular in the middle of the film, where things slow down to address the more quest-heavy aspects and the jokes become fairly simple.  However, for all of the filthy jokes in this film, there are a few moments that go above and beyond as far as I am concerned, whether they are sight gags or running jokes (Franco’s most trusted companion is genius by the way).


Despite the subjective nature of comedy, I can only recommend this film based off of my own reaction and I laughed a lot during it.  It is kind of a mess in terms of delivering an ambitiously made stoner comedy, but I was really into what this film had to offer and I continue to enjoy the style of comedy that McBride and Co. deliver.  It helps that Franco and Portman are game to share in the absurdity of this film as well.  Given that a new version of Conan is set to come out this summer, it will be interesting to see how seriously I take it.  But as far as this film is concerned, I have a feeling that repeated viewings will serve it well.  This medieval fantasy comedy may be very silly, but it was also a lot of enjoyable fun.
[The brothers get high]
Fabious: Brother, do you see what I see?
Thadeous:  Yes, you - making a fool of yourself.  Handle your shit, Fabious, please.

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