Weinberg Reviews YOUR HIGHNESS
Read that rotten joke I just made up, over and over, for 90 straight minutes and you're halfway to understanding the stunningly simple-minded sort of material on display in the medieval action comedy Your Highness. Directed by a guy who (until now) has never made a bad film, and populated by performers who are virtually always entertaining, Your Highness is a rancid piece of nostalgia-friendly crap that somehow got green-lit and produced because a small group of filmmakers had some financial successes elsewhere, and were then given the keys to a $50 million genre farce that would have died a quick death even if it had turned out hilarious. And despite the collective presence of undeniably talented people like David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, and Justin Theroux, Your Highness never comes close to graduating past its gratingly sophomoric "tits & dicks" jokes, none of which are nearly as funny as the aforementioned people seem to think they are.
Green, director of superlative indies like Undertow and All the Real Girls, surprised a lot of folks (including me) by delivering an odd, subversive, and admirably comfortable "big budget" comedy a few years back. It was called Pineapple Express and it stands as an enjoyably weird example of how to spend a big studio's money, oddly yet well. Coasting (and I do mean coasting) on that film's success, Green returns to the same well with Your Highness, an unapologetically juvenile farce that aims to bring modern crotch humor to a throwback adventure epic that's been tossed together from vague memories of flicks like Conan the Barbarian, Krull, The Beastmaster, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Willow, and whatever other fantasy epics that Danny McBride loves to watch when he's very stoned.
Kudos to the producers for even taking the chance with an R-rated swords & sandals comedy, because we simply don't get many efforts like Your Highness. But the flick sort of teaches us why this is the case in very short order: Your Highness is not an Airplane!-style spoof that mocks the stereotypes and conventions of a specific sub-genre, but a very basic farce that offers a petulant young prince (Danny McBride) who must accompany his wonderfully heroic brother (James Franco) on a quest to save the kingdom. A more clever film might have taken time to point out the flaws, foibles, and goofy bits of the swords & sorcery sub-genre, but Green and company are more than content to simply construct an egregiously-paced quest story that's all but awash in oh-so-hilariously anachronistic profanity. The joke works early, but not often, and by the time Ye Olde English is skewered by a cock reference for the 112th time, Your Highness starts to feel like an over-caffeinated 14-year-old who won't shut the hell up about tits and balls already.
Even if McBride's astonishingly consistent devotion to groin humor proves hilarious to you (it won't), there's little denying that the film is a horribly lazy affair: elaborate scenes (such as one involving a hanging) are staged poorly, thereby killing any potential humor; McBride's character is clearly meant to be a "fish out of water" stooge, yet nobody in this medieval era thinks his attitude, behavior, or oddly modern slang are even remotely strange; aside from the final scene, most of Your Highness could be re-edited randomly and come out making the same amount of narrative sense; and there's a palpably smug sense of "hipness" at work here, as if it's the pinnacle of edginess to have your main character wear a Minotaur's dismembered cock as a battle trophy. One gets the impression that at least 40% of this stuff was well and truly hilarious on the improvisation-friendly set of Your Highness, but very little of that enjoyment makes it through to the audience.
A flick with this type of cast, this level of self-deprecating but undeniably talented filmmakers, and this sort of creative freedom could have turned out to be a magical combination of Animal House and The Princess Bride. Instead, Your Highness wastes its inestimable assets by pandering to the slowest wit, the simplest leer, and the stupidest cock jokes imaginable. And once again, a stellar character actor is tossed into a leading role with little to no reason why he should be there. As innately hilarious as Danny McBride is (and I'd argue that he is), he doesn't seem all that comfortable here as the main attraction. Alas: what should have been chaotic, childish, raunchy, and supremely silly FUN is instead a shining, shrieking example of Hollywood wastefulness at its most obvious.