Saturday, April 09, 2011

Your Highness: Merrily We Roll Along, Toking Up On Our Way

Your Highness
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Written By: Danny McBride and Ben Best
Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Rasmus Hardiker, and Toby Jones.
Director of Photography: Tim Orr, Editor: Craig Alpert, Production Designer: Mark Tildesley, Original Music: Steve Jarblonsky
Rated: R for plenty of foul language, violence galore, and some titillating imagery.

            There is a certain rift within the new comedy Your Highness. On one side, the film is clearly indebted to Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, as well as all other medieval myths that came before it. But it’s also a stoner comedy, filled with dick jokes, swearing, and everything else that a dirty mind can conjure up. It’s no surprise then Your Highness is the work of Danny McBride, the writer and actor from HBO’s Eastbound and Down, as well as Pineapple Express. Mr. McBride, uniting once again with director David Gordon Green, seems fit on making another dumb action comedy, but using its setting to create a self-conscious irony.

            Which is what makes Your Highness so stupid, but so fun nonetheless. Medieval films, and especially recent Television shows like Game of Thrones and The Borgias, are so serious, and held down by their self-importance. Mr. Green might have started with independent masterpieces like George Washington and All the Real Girls, but now he’s become a downright irreverent filmmaker, albeit still a good one with a stoner-set mind (Mr. Green last directed Pineapple Express). So the best jokes that emerge in Your Highness are of course those that hold such irreverence, for the language, the mythology, or simply the absurdity of it all.

            Along with Mr. McBride in the cast is James Franco, always game for anything. The two play royal brothers in a magic kingdom, where the aptly named Fabious (Mr. Franco) is a noble warrior cherished by all, while Thadeous (Mr. McBridge) spends his time smoking, fornicating, and chasing sheep. When an evil prince (Justin Theroux) captures the bride-to-be of Fabious, a dim-witted virgin (Zooey Deschanel), the two must quest to rescue her.

            Of course, the actual narrative is paper thin, and simply designed to get the characters from set piece to set piece, allowing for maximum joke time along the way. But while Pineapple Express played with the genre in a smart way that challenged expectations, Mr. McBride and his co-writer Ben Best have remained more or less faithful to linear storytelling, only subverted by its humor. The result is a mix of great laughs but a lot of clunkers. Most of the problem seems to emerge from Mr. McBride. While Mr. Franco, Ms. Deschanel, and Natalie Portman, who plays a warrior woman who joins the boys, all play the narrative for its life or death stakes, Mr. McBride is simply too smug for the camera, and too self-aware of the joke. He fits in a contemporary world as a pitch-perfect and absurd stoner, Mr. McBride wants to have his cake and eat it too.

            Thankfully, Mr. Green as a director knows how to give us enough to hold on to. While George Washington was probably an apex of independent cinema, Mr. Green is quite comfortable working with big CGI works as well. He knows how to perfectly balance the line between action and comedy, using the right amount of gore (ie. Way more than needed) to make us chuckle, as well as visualizes some great set pieces, most notably a hand that turns into a multi-headed dragon.

            By the time it reaches its climax (in which the wizard will rape the beautiful virgin, which is given a hilarious title not suitable for print), Your Highness overstays its welcome. But for a while there it gets enough laughs to gallop along its running time. The problem is that Mr. McBride and Mr. Best are unsure on what their take on the genre is. Is it homage? Is it parody? Without such a boundary, Your Highness gets stuck in a world of both, and not even a giant Minotaur penis can make up for a tonal imbalance. 

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