Without the likes of Mel Brooks around, spoof films most likely fall flat on their face unless properly done. Obvious rip-offs don’t cut it anymore, a real satirical edge has to be there, mixed with equal amounts of comedy and love for the genre being ridiculed. The recent comedy Paul, almost got it right with science fiction and now we have Your Highness, a spoof of the medieval fantasy realm spiced up with vulgar humor, award winning actors, nifty effects and a stoner mentality. Coming from a talented director like David Gordon Green, who successfully parodied the buddy action comedy (following the traditional 70’s Cheech and Chong formula) in 2008’s Pineapple Express; it should be a winning effort. Well, it hits more than it misses but the effort is substantially lacking, particularly unexpected considering the gifted people involved.
The tone is set immediately before the opening credits, with a narration detailing a kingdom filled with knights, wizards and “other serious shit”, balancing the ancient setting with low brass comedy. This is the manner Your Highness follows throughout the entire picture, and is untimely its Achilles heel. Danny McBride and James Franco play brothers who are princes in a royal castle.
After returning home from his latest bloody quest, Fabious (Franco) prepares to marry Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) in front of the kingdom, much to Thadeus’ dissent. A wicked wizard (Justin Theroux) with plans for Belladonna, crashes the party and kidnaps the bride to be, forcing the brothers to go out on a daring quest to save her from the clutches of evil. Obviously the plot follows classic fantasy story lines very literally, and it works for the most part. No real surprises are in store, but there is plenty of action and monsters in store to keep you entertained.
The uneven aspect of the film lies in the comedy aspect of Your Highness, failing to maintain the satire correctly. The R-rated approach in this scenario works at times, using modern language so juvenile and inappropriate it seems out of place coming from men in chain mail. It however, grows tiresome and wears out its welcome after the twelfth f-bomb or penis remark is used. Even the improvisation is not as clever as it could’ve been, resorting to more physical gags than the drug-induced sharp dialogue displayed in Pineapple Express. Ben Best and Danny McBride who together wrote the script, didn’t take full advantage of the hack and slash setting, occasionally coming up with attentive comical sequences but overall wasting a perfectly ripe opportunity to skewer the fantasy genre.
What makes the toilet humor tolerable is in the delivery. These are actors who can make even dry writing humorous. Franco above all, relishes in the parody, his joyously vapid prince is fresh throughout thanks to his unwavering performance. He’s a true hero, born to fight multiple foes as well as reciting verses of romance tenderly about his love for Belladonna. He’s so serious and buffed up in courageous vigor that it makes him such an ideal foil for McBride’s skeptical outlook. The two have a natural chemistry with reactions so forcefully opposite that at times Franco himself looks like he’ll explode in laughter at McBride’s facial response to a cheesy line of heroism. This generally works in the film even beyond the low level jokes, the fact that Thadeus is such a lazy coward next to Fabious as the knight in shining armor doesn’t wear out its welcome. McBride plays boorish very well as evidence after watching one episode of HBO’s Eastbound and Down, and in Your Highness he basically plays a similar character but one who’s royalty.
As for the rest of the cast, Natalie Portman as the fearless warrior who joins the brothers on their quest plays her part very straight and focused. Only a couple times does she join in the vulgar humor, and her detailed strenuous stories regarding the horrors of battle she’s partaken in is a running gag that actually gets better throughout the film. Portman is incredibly convincing as a warrior though, her fierceness is matched by her nimble agility making her almost ninja-like. Stunt double or not, she looks tough. Is there any genre she can’t do believably? After winning an Oscar, she’s starred in two back to back comedies (one romantic) and also appears in May’s upcoming Thor. Portman’s agent must have thought she was nuts when she chose those scripts, it’s rare when an actress like her can be so versatile and pull off so many different roles. Bravo to Portman.
Deschanel has a role that doesn’t offer her much room to expand, but she plays an innocent socially awkward beauty with a perky grace (her character’s a virgin who’s been locked in a tower all her life, go figure). Theroux is a standout, his wizard is bizarre beyond belief and when you discover what his master plan is, you’ll chuckle at the twisted honest nature of it. Another actor worth mentioning is Rasmus Hardiker, who plays Thadeus’ loyally delicate servant Courtney. Some situations he’s involved in are outrageously silly but his expressions alone are priceless.
Your Highness isn’t quite the home run it easily could have been. The decision to stick with the filthy gags instead of the insightful intelligent ones seen in similar medieval parodies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, keeps it from being memorable. Still, the performances from everyone involved are well-rounded and engaging enough to praise. The action scenes are easy to watch to, visually pleasing and straightforward, just like the fantasy films it mocks. Your Highness may appeal to the teenager inside of you, with its dick jokes and bountiful amounts of inappropriate language, but there are enough solid laughs delivered by the cast for anyone who enjoys comedy. Plus for all the guys out there, you get to see Portman in a thong (besides in Closer), and that alone is worth ten bucks.
Your Highness hits more than it misses but the effort is substantially lacking, which is particularly unexpected considering the gifted people involved.