As it was with his last movie, Pineapple Express, director David Gordon Green is out to deliver an experience that defies categorization. Your Highness is an action film, a fantasy movie, and a comedy rolled into one. The only problem here is that though the script pulls it all off, on their own each of those levels is pretty two-dimensional and the story never manages to bring those things together on screen in the same moment. Yet Your Highness is so gleefully R-rated, so utterly unapologetic for being what it is, and so completely original, you can forgive it for being incapable of becoming anything more than a series of one-note sex jokes crammed in between quick-cut action sequences and a wickedly weird, fantasy movie plot.
The thing is, a lot of those one-note sex jokes are pretty funny. Your Highness is far too reliant on them, but at least if it’s going to be nothing but dick jokes, it does it with the kind of rampant enthusiasm that can only result in ornamenting oneself with a Minotaur’s erect penis. More on Minotaur eroticism later, but first you should know that the Danny McBride and James Franco star in this medieval madness as two brothers who set off on a quest together when the older, more successful brother Fabious (James Franco) loses his bride (Zooey Deschanel) to a malevolent sorcerer (played hilariously by Justin Theroux) with mommy issues. The plot sounds like a simple rehash of every fantasy story you’ve seen before, but at some point it becomes so weird it’s something much more. Along the way they encounter a sexed-up stoner puppet and fall into a very literal booby trap. There’s a barbarian overlord who looks sort of like a giant baby and some kind of magic mustard he uses to attack our heroes. They wander around in a labyrinth and find themselves facing magical spells beyond the pale. This is a movie with ideas to spare.
McBride’s Thadeous isn’t just less successful than Fabious, he’s a cowardly, selfish, deluded oaf. In other words, every Danny McBride character you’ve seen before. That’s not a complaint. This character has not yet worn out his welcome. McBride’s bullying comedic style gets center stage and Thadeous carries the movie so well it’s kind of a letdown whenever we’re left spending time with James Franco. Franco squints at the camera and tosses his hair, but I never really bought into him as the prototypical hero type. Your Highness should have gone out and hired a real, gritty straight man instead. Viggo Mortensen paired up with Danny McBride would have added at least one star to my review of this film.
When McBride’s not carrying the movie by simply being a massively funny jerk, he’s got a sidekick named Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) with the ability to steal scenes even while he’s just standing around in the background. He’s pretty good in some of the movie’s action sequences too, and by action I mean Minotaur sex. I told you we’d get back to that.
Natalie Portman is in Your Highness, as a fellow warrior encountered along the “ous” brothers' journey. Her best scene involves taking off leather pants to reveal a medieval g-string. You’d think she’d be having a lot more fun than she is. It’s as though screenwriters Danny McBride and Ben Best never quite figured out how to use her, but really needed another love interest and also someone who could shoot arrows. Mission accomplished.
When there’s not a joke to be made there’s a sword to be swung. Some of these sequences are better than others. A cage match proves to be a lot of fun, but the movie’s climactic battle not so much. It feels like something that could have been better with a bigger budget, and if that’s the case, you can’t really fault them. It’s not easy getting people to invest in something which can only be described as Conan the Barbarian meets Cheech & Chong.
Whatever reason, far too many of the movie’s action moments end up in quick-cut, close shot scenarios that make it hard to tell what’s going on. There are times when it works and just as many when it doesn’t. Maybe if they’d focused more on making those action scenes funny instead of exciting, they could have found a way around it, but Your Highness keeps its comedy and its action in different tool boxes.
It doesn’t always hit the right notes, but Your Highness has its heart in the right place. It starts with a one of the funniest opening credits sequences you’re likely to see this year by mixing angry dwarves with medieval art, and then tries desperately to top it. It doesn’t, but Green’s willingness to try anything, do anything, and say anything is a breath of fresh air. Somewhere in here is a movie that’s even better. Your Highness has all the right ideas, though it doesn’t always execute them.