Your Highness jumps right into its absurdities. After a brief prologue that’s played The Lords Of The Rings straight, we meet Thadeous (Danny McBride), a troublemaking prince in ancient times who’s about to be hanged. His offense: He slept with the dwarf king’s equally little wife. Flanking the disproportioned gallows are the equally tiny members of the king’s court, but the hanging isn’t successful; as the floor opens and Thadeous drops down, his feet quickly touch ground, since the death penalty device is designed for midgets.
It’s that kind of clever sight gag that Your Highness thrives upon. Directed by McBride’s longtime friend, critical darling, and fantasy movie aficionado David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), the deservedly R-rated comedy works on a simple premise: Take the imagery and conventions of sword-and-sorcery fantasies seriously while overloading the dialogue and narrative with potty humor and dick jokes galore.
For such a raunchy idea, McBride (who co-wrote the script with Ben Best) is just about the best guy you’d want to provide the laughs, and Green handles the action sequences and many visual effects unsurprisingly well (the boy’s got talent). But Your Highness is curiously one-note; for every smart piece of hilariousness, there are three or four jokes that revolve around the F-word or lazy sexual puns.
The plot centers on a familiar “slacker saves the day” set-up. Thadeous lives under the shadow of his brother Fabious (James Franco), a noble warrior who’s understandably their king-father’s favorite son. Fabious returns from battle with a new bride, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel); on their wedding day, while “best man” Thadeous is off smoking medieval reefer and chasing sheep, Belladonna is abducted by evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), who plans to have sex with her in order to conceive a dragon. Or, as Leezar calls it, “The Fuckening.”
The king sends both of his sons on a rescue mission during which they politick with and jerk off a flamboyantly gay CGI wizard, join forces with badass warrior chick Isabel (Natalie Portman), and go head-on against a giant five-headed snake and a Minotaur the size of a nightclub doorman.
"For every smart piece of hilariousness, there are three or four jokes that revolve around the F-word or lazy sexual puns." As Thadeous, McBride basically plays a slightly less abrasive and ambitious version of Kenny Powers, his arrogant schmuck of a character (and we mean that in a complimentary way) on HBO’s Eastbound & Down. Though he’s not stretching his gifts at all, McBride still manages to sell Thadeous’ misguided sense of entitlement, never ignoring an opportunity to cuss. McBride’s reliance on dirty talk becomes rather predictable, however; oddly, the film’s best lines are distributed amongst McBride’s co-stars. Theroux owns every one of his all-too-brief scenes, giving Leezar a rock-n-roll aesthetic that’s counterbalanced by subtle goofiness. His defense against being a virgin is by far the movie’s funniest joke.
The general idea behind Your Highness might give off the preconception that it’s a Meet The Spartans-like spoof of Dungeons & Dragons, but Green’s direction is too sophisticated to allow the film to degenerate into second-rate satire. More known for his mellower dramas (George Washington, All The Real Girls), the indie auteur turned major studio player nails the movie’s special effects moments, in particular the slaying of a five-headed snake and a marginally suspenseful and well-shot Minotaur battle inside a labyrinth. Even when the film’s humor becomes stale, Green doesn’t slack off on the visuals.
There’s only so much the director can do to keep things fresh, though. McBride and Best’s script settles into repetition quite early into Your Highness, intermittently earning genuine belly laughs with bits that reach the anticipated degrees of hilarity, namely the Minotaur scene’s Dirk Diggler-esque payoff. All of the performances are spot-on, with recent Academy Awards headliners Franco and Portman having tangible fun with the flick’s ridiculousness. But hearing Portman say “burning in my beaver” in her Brit-like accent was most likely funnier on set than it is in the actual movie. Surrounded by a multitude of equally sophomoric dialogue, lines like that fall Kate-Moss-flat.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon, when one’s brain needs a break and Mary Jane comes out to play, Your Highness should do the trick, since it’s funny enough to recommend on a purely juvenile level. Having seen what kind of intelligent subversion McBride and Best are truly capable of from their co-written Eastbound & Down episodes, though, we’re just too aware of the film’s rampant laziness to toast Your Highness with full goblets.