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Great screen comedies that feature a severed Minotaur’s penis as a key prop are, sadly, few and far between. Your Highness aspires to such greatness but falls instead into a deep chasm of such comic lowness after less than five minutes that it’s unable to extricate itself. Things get so bad you half expect a cameo by Nicolas Cage.
The surprises here are twofold: One is that David Gordon Green, whose early films such as George Washington and All the Real Girls showed genuine promise, agreed to direct. The other is that Green and producer Scott Stuber assembled such a talented cast for such a feeble script. The result is like watching an All-Star basketball game where everyone throws up bricks. Box office should be an air ball.
Mel Brooks used to do things like this in his sleep — you know, a spoof of a genre movie, in this case, of a medieval fantasy-adventure — and, of course, the Monty Python comedy troupe mastered the art form. But Green is tone-deaf to comedy, so he is seriously misled by longtime buddy and collaborator Danny McBride, who co-wrote and co-produced this “twisted tale” in which he himself would star. There is little worse in the movie world than a spoof that falls flat on its over-costumed butt, but that’s what you get with Your Highness.
In a fantasy world strikingly well imaged by rugged Northern Irish landscapes, a savvy set design and overabundance of digital effects, the movie’s human characters meander in an indifferent quest that devolves into a contest to see who can be the worst potty-mouth. So for every f–k, a– and b–v-r uttered, the movie spends a fortune in miniatures, sets, creatures, costumes and razzle-dazzle. Wouldn’t you know the only visual effect most male viewers are likely to remember are the semi-naked women with sandy paint all over their eye-catching bodies. It would appear no digital effects were involved.
McBride plays Thadeous, a king’s second son and very much a second fiddle to his heroic elder brother Fabious (James Franco, looking even less animated than during his Oscar-hosting duties). A witless servant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) enables his endless slacker act. But when Fabious’ bride, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, looking mildly bewildered by all this), is kidnapped on her wedding day by an evil wizard (Justin Theroux), their father (Charles Dance) insists Thadeous accompany his brother on a quest to rescue his bride.
Along the way, a mysterious female warrior (Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, taking advantage of all those ballet lessons for Black Swan to do flips and pirouettes while slicing and stabbing her male opponents) joins this band of woeful brothers undone by betrayals from mutinous minions played by the likes of Toby Jones and Damian Lewis. There is also a mechanical bird named Simon, who flew in from another movie genre.
It’s hard to locate the joke the filmmakers even think they’re telling. McBride’s character is a dope-smoking masturbator wandering through an absurd world making lame, anachronistic wisecracks, but nothing here is the least bit funny. Or rather it earns laughs only in the pathetic sense. Then this worm’s turn happens, oddly enough, off-screen and without any real motivation. Sorry, the word “motivation” does not belong in a review of Your Highness.
Indeed, speaking of motivation, the only excuse for the film’s existence is a misguided act of friendship in the case of Green and McBride and for everyone else a paycheck.
Tech credits are vastly superior here — this cannot be overstated enough — to anything done by above-the-line personnel.
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