It’s always nice when left-of-center talents get free reign in Hollywood. Watching Your Highness, it’s very clear that star Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green made the exact film they wanted. Equal parts bizarre gross-out/stoner comedy and straight-faced homage to cheesy 80s swords n’ dragons fantasy flicks like Willow, The Dark Crystal, or Dragonslayer, the movie clearly springs directly from their collective adolescent movie obsessions.
Filled with off-color gags about child-diddling puppets and minotaur penises, this movie isn’t the result of studio execs packaging a product, but a few longtime friends and collaborators getting to let loose a deeply bizarre and idiosyncratic vision with Universal Studios covering the tab. Unfortunately, the film is a failed experiment, trying to be too many different movies at the same time. However, it’s at least an interesting failure with a handful of memorable moments and it’s better to see strong talents fail on their own terms rather than being crushed by studio politics and expectations.
McBride and Green have been collaborating for close to a decade now. Though Green is best known for directing Pineapple Express, he went into that film with a long career of weirdo art films like George Washington and Undertow under his belt. The pair met at film school and Green even gave McBride his first movie role in underrated indie romance All The Real Girls. Ever since McBride created his patented ignorant comedy asshole in Fist Foot Way, he’s made a point of bringing his film school buddy along for the ride, getting him involved with not only Pineapple Express but also the amazing HBO series Eastbound And Down. Your Highness marks the first time the pair had full control of a studio comedy without even the guiding hand of Judd Apatow. The guys clearly had a blast combining their caustic comedy with a fantasy genre relegated to the ranks forgotten 80s cheese. Perhaps if you’re equally enamored by their comedy and movies like Krull, Your Highness offers a geekgasm of epic proportions. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine many people fall into that niche and most of them probably worked on the movie.
Your Highness stars Danny McBride as Thadeous, a ne’er-do-well prince whose life dedicated to booze, weed, n’ boobs has always been over shadowed by his brother Fabious’ endless series of heroic quests. James Franco plays Fabious as a clueless hero who rescues a virgin (the preposterously beautiful Zooey Deschanel, also an All The Real Girls veteran) only to have her kidnapped at their wedding by an evil wizard played by Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive). The brothers then set out on a quest to rescue her, encountering the expected collection of bizarre characters including a puppet who has possibly molested Franco since childhood and a bizarre man-baby who leads a tribe of topless ladies and controls a giant five headed serpent with his hand. Along the way they also meet up with Natalie Portman’s female warrior to give McBride a love interest and yadda yadda yadda, good triumphs over evil.
80s fantasy movies are ripe for parody and McBride and Green assemble a handful of sequences that use venomous vulgarity to mock the silly genre. Unfortunately their overall approach to the genre is one of reverence rather than irreverence. Had the tone of the movie been more along the lines of MacGruber where the silly aspects of 80s action movies were played straight for laughs whenever there wasn’t full on comedy, Your Highness might have worked. Unfortunately this a movie made by fans of 80s fantasy movies for fans of 80s fantasy movies. McBride and long time screening writing buddy Ben Best even wrote the script, so that can’t be blamed on studio interference. This is the movie they wanted to make for better or worse.
There are certainly plenty of funny moments with McBride and Franco making for an enjoyable comedy team of contrasts, Justin Theroux clearly having a blast as the villain, and the writers dreaming up the best use of a minotaur penis in the history of cinema, but there are simply too many gaps in the laughs for lame action sequences that Green didn’t have the budget to pull off properly. The stoner jokes also feel completely tacked on as if the studio insisted weed be added to appeal to the Pineapple Express crowd and that proves more distracting than anything else. Equally distracting is the presence of Franco and Portman mere weeks after their night of Oscar glory. Obviously the filmmakers never could have predicted that the genre movie veterans would be honored by the Hollywood elite immediately before their weirdo comedy experiment was released, but it happened and it’s an elephant in the room. Both Franco and Portman are amusing and effective as straight men, but their Academy Award credibility is an unfortunate distraction in a movie already beset by problems.
Your Highness isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just misconceived. Danny McBride and David Gordon Green clearly made the film for their 14-year-old selves and perhaps there are plenty of 14-year-olds out there who will embrace it. However, it’s unlikely that there are may people who will appreciate a movie with a ridiculous mechanical bird included as a feature-length parody of Bubo from the original Clash Of The Titans. Sometimes filmmakers can channel their inner-geek to reinvent their favorite old movies for new audiences (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Quentin Tarantino’s entire filmography spring to mind). Your Highness isn’t one of those movies. It’s an amusing failure, but a failure nonetheless.