With Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Toby Jones. Directed by Danny Gordon Green. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use. 102 minutes.
The knives are out for YOUR HIGHNESS. It is being called the worst movie ever made by some who presumably haven’t seen many movies, and will be savaged in more reviews than not. Yet another movie released shortly after – which will remain nameless for the same reasons you don’t invoke the name of a terrible boogeyman – has an extended scene involving vomiting and diarrhea as a high point. That movie is already being hailed as a comedy classic (go figure).
Sometimes the job of the reviewer is to dissent from the prevailing opinion. “Your Highness” is a comedy of stupidity to be sure, but it also has a sense of playfulness and bawdiness we haven’t seen much of lately. It also manages to be that rare movie spoof that isn’t a spoof of a particular movie and therefore aspires to be more than set-ups and punch lines based on your knowledge of the original.
Danny McBride stars as Prince Thadeous, the second son of King Tallious (Charles Dance) in numerous ways. Where the heir to throne, Prince Fabious (James Franco, a lot funnier than he was at the Oscars) is off on various quests, Thadeous would rather avoid danger and grouse about unfair life has been. When Fabious’s bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the lascivious wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), both brothers are sent off on a quest to rescue her.
The bulk of the film consists of that quest, and there are echoes – on a juvenile level to be sure – of “Monty Python And The Holy Grail” and “The Princess Bride.” There are also some very nifty special effects for a movie like this, including a Minotaur and a five headed monster. Along the way, they meet another quester, Isabel (Natalie Portman), off to avenge Leezar wiping out her entire village. The presence of actors like Franco, Portman, Dance and Toby Jones (as a duplicitous aide to the king) shows that McBride (who co-wrote the script) and director David Gordon Green wanted the film to be better than the third-rate spoofs that have passed themselves off as comedies in recent years.
McBride is in the long tradition of comic cowardly heroes whose first instinct is self-preservation, but over the course of the story discovers they’re better than that. The rest of the cast plays it straight, although Theroux is permitted to chew the scenery a bit more than is necessary, and villains in such movies ought to be genuinely scary.
“Your Highness” is utterly disposable but it is not the train wreck that some are making it out to be. Those in the mood for dumb fun – and who are willing to check their brains at the door – should have a good time.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.