House Calls: Cleverness Gets Slain In "Your Highness", Not Dragons

House Calls: Cleverness Gets Slain In "Your Highness", Not Dragons

Your Highness (Unrated)

Coolest extra: Gag reel (DVD); “Perverted Visions” featurette (Blu-ray only)

Complex says: That Your Highness is a creative failure is by far one of the year’s biggest cinematic shocks. Basically one joke stretched way beyond its breaking point over the course of 100 marginally entertaining minutes, director David Gordon Green’s sword-and-sorcery romp is the kind of movie that looks like it was a hoot to make, but few of the cast and crew’s joys translate; in that sense, it’s Couple’s Retreat featuring a more exciting cast, CGI dragons, Natalie Portman in a thong, and Danny McBride wearing a Minotaur’s schlong as a necklace.

Admittedly, the Minotaur bit is quite funny, but it’s also a key signifier of the film’s biggest drawback: With the wealth of references, tropes, creatures, and mythology available in the fantasy genre, McBride’s script, co-written by Ben Best, takes the easy route, striving for cheap laughs via rampant F-bombs and obvious sexual humor. The central gag is clear, that of a fantastical action-adventure subverted through stoner comedy sensibilities, yet, by comparison, movies like Pineapple Express (also directed by Green and co-starring James Franco and McBride) display the ingenuity of a Christopher Nolan flick.

Not that the performances help much, either. Franco, playing the more noble of two princes/brothers, is too on-the-nose as the deadpan straight-man to McBride’s cruder character, which is, essentially, Kenny Powers-light. The jokes are already telegraphically sophomoric, so the leading duo’s shared miscalculations spoil the potentially idiotic fun. The only one who seems aware of the material’s lowbrow silliness is Justin Theroux, playing the story’s magical villain with David Bowie-like flamboyance and a strong knack for selling reasonably comical lines as hilarious quotables.

At the start of 2011, Your Highness was, to the credit of all involved and its ripe comedic premise, one of our most anticipated 2011 funny movies; only humorous in the least impactful way possible, this disappointment commits the biggest cardinal sin for any fantasy movie, whether serious or satirical: It’s unimaginative.

Buy it now: Your Highness (Unrated)

 

Paul (Unrated)

Coolest extra: Commentary with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Hader, director Greg Mottola, and producer Nira Park (DVD); “RV Doorway: The Cast Of Paul On Location” featurette

Complex says: Much like Your Highness, Paul takes a high-concept genre (aliens-on-Earth science fiction, not dragon-slaying fantasy), drops in a familiar comedic set-up (here, the road trip narrative, not marijuana love), and relies upon the chemistry of its two leading men (who, like McBride with Your Highness, wrote the script). Unlike McBride and Franco, however, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a perfect match, and the otherwise so-so Paul is all the better for it.

Fans of the Pegg/Frost team’s past films (Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz) might be letdown by director Greg Mottola’s (Superbad, Adventureland) film; a clear hat-tip to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Paul is sweeter than it is funny. The jokes, some clever (Paul advised Steven Spielberg on the filmmaker’s sci-fi classics) and others uninspired, come largely at the expense of the titular alien, a smart-ass, beer-drinking Martian voiced in typical Seth Rogen-ness by, yes, Seth Rogen.

Sporting board shorts, sandals, and CGI movements, Paul’s funnier in idea than execution, with a slacker’s edge that gradually becomes monotonous. It’s up to Pegg and Frost to keep the vibe as fresh as possible, and they do, valiantly, but without the same acute wit seen and heard in Shaun and Fuzz. What Paul lacks in uproarious laughter is made up for with a strong final act, liberally jacking entire concepts from E.T. but doing so with reverence and a surprisingly touching spirit. It’s not the gut-buster we’d hope for, yet the English tag-team’s affectionate ode to sci-fi fanboys is too earnestly presented to frustrate.

Buy it now: Paul (Unrated)

 

Super

Coolest extra: TKTKTK (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: With superheroes being all the rage in film-land, it’s understandable that movies about justice-seekers minus any actual superpowers are challenging the genre’s conventions head-on. Last year, the graphic novel adaptation Kick-Ass approached the self-made-superhero motif from a coming-of-age, teen-spirited angle, and the upcoming independent flick Griff The Invisible (starring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) posits itself as an edgy romantic comedy. The most interesting of them all, though, is writer-director James Gunn’s Super, a schizophrenic oddity that’s just as concerned with physical humor as it is over-the-top, gory violence and psychedelic dream sequences.

Tonally, Super bounces around from lighthearted to savagely nihilistic like a Pong ball. Rainn Wilson (The Office’s irrepressible Dwight Schrute) plays a meek everyman whose junkie of a wife (Liv Tyler) falls under the damaging control of a local drug dealer (a delightfully icy Kevin Bacon); in order to rescue her from an inevitable narcotics-aided demise, Wilson becomes the Crimson Bolt, an under-qualified superhero, complete with a homemade costume, a nifty catchphrase (“Shut up, crime!”), and a cute, hyperactive sidekick, Boltie (Ellen Page, at her sexiest and most manic).

Gunn, a veteran of independent genre factory Troma Entertainment, has a vicious streak that underlies Super, never allowing the film to settle into a humorous state long enough to achieve any modicum of hilarity. The laughs, while present, are secondary to the filmmaker’s desire to distress audiences; Gunn’s decision to end one major character’s storyline with a shotgun blast to the face, which blows half of the poor fool’s head clean off, is a tell-tale indicator of Super’s intent.

And, ultimately, it’s exactly the type of visual that will either make or break Super in a respective viewer’s mind. Consider us in the “make’ category. As scatterbrained and unevenly pitched as it is, Gunn’s masked avenger send-up is fascinatingly twisted.

Buy it now: Super

 

Jumping The Broom

Coolest extra: “You’re Invited: Behind The Scenes” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: The first clue that Jumping The Broom is better than its cinematic peers: Tyler Perry’s name is nowhere to be found in the credits. Meaning, there’s no Madea, or any perpetuated stereotypes; instead, this warm-hearted rom-com puts relatable and endearing characters first, even if its ultimately a bit too melodramatic and clichéd for its own good. But, again, there’s no cross-dressing, overbearing matriarch on board to undermine his (or her?) own movie. And that’s something to appreciate.

Directed by newcomer Salim Akil, Jumping The Broom gains a lot of mileage out of its agreeable cast. Paula Patton takes the Katherine Heigl-like role of well-off bride-to-be and makes the part more than a whiny, lovesick archetype; Laz Alonso, meanwhile, holds his own as Patton’s inner city native of a groom, whose rough-around-the-edges family heads off to Martha’s Vineyard to meet her rich fam, comingle, and hopefully not ruin the wedding.

It’s refreshing to see a film of this kind that doesn’t feel the need to diverge into raunchy set-pieces or profane one-liners, though that lack of absurdity also plays into Jumping The Broom’s weakness. Entirely pleasant, Akil’s flick doesn’t exactly crackle; the cast is on-point, and their chemistry is apparent, but this lightweight affair hits the heart with a minimal thud, not the sort of forceful wallop that keeps the best romantic comedies lingering in one’s positive thoughts long after the expected happy ending concludes.

Buy it now: Jumping The Broom

Tags: danny-mcbride, james-franco, natalie-portman, zooey-deschanel, david-gordon-green, simon-pegg, kristen-wiig, jason-bateman, seth-rogen, paula-patton
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