Your Highness is one of the more baffling failures from 2011. All the elements seemed to be in place. You had James Franco and Natalie Portman hot from critical acclaim and Oscar glory for 127 hours and Black Swan. You have Danny McBride in his first big leading role aside from HBO’s Eastbound and Down. Finally you have director David Gordon Green previously best known for arty meaningful work who scored a hit with Pineapple Express in 2008. Then for some reason audiences stayed away in their masses. It could be that most of your modern filmgoing demographic isn’t familiar with the films that Your Highness riffs on. Or it could be that ultimately the film doesn’t quite work as it should.
Your Highness begins in a mythical kingdom with Thadeous (Danny McBride) the oafish son of a king constantly in the shadow of his younger brother Fabious (James Franco) who goes on quests and wins the hearts of his people. Thadeous is content to sit around the kingdom, smoke weed and womanise with his trusted aide Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker). When Fabious returns from his latest quest with his virginal new love Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) whom he has rescued, Thadeous is made to feel inferior still when they announce their marriage. During the ceremony evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux) shows up and kidnaps Belladonna as he wishes to use her in a ritual to impregnate her and bring about the birth of a dragon. Thadeous is given a choice by his father, either go on the quest with Fabious to rescue Belladonna and prove himself worthy or find somewhere else to live. They set out on their quest with Fabious’s band of warriors but are soon betrayed and are forced to rely on each other as well as mysterious warrior woman Isabel (Natalie Portman).
The main problem withYour Highness is one of tone. The fantasy elements are taken as seriously as the comedy elements leading to great sequences - such as the one in which our heroes are trapped in an arena and have to fight a multi headed serpent creature, or the pretty cool special effects surrounding Leezar’s powers. It’s also surprisingly gory, especially towards the end where swordfights often end in lost limbs or sprayings of blood. The production design and special effects are all really solid and the whole thing looks really good. Quite often in spoof cinema, the elements making up the subject being spoofed are not taken that seriously, so to see a film that has real production value with castles and countryside is refreshing. This doesn’t quite gel with the comedy aspects of the film. The humour here is pretty silly and truthfully it is best to view Your Highness if you are in a silly mood or have had a few beers or whatever your poison is. It’s no contrived Meet the Spartans type film though and doesn’t riff on modern films constantly. If you grew up during the 1980s watching fantasy films like Krull, Beastmaster, The Sword and the Sorcerer andWillow then you’ll get many of the references here and it’s clear that the writers McBride himself and Ben Best have a lot of affection for these films. David Gordon Green somehow pulled off a similar trick with Pineapple Express in that the action gelled with the silly comedy and it flowed really well. There was no problem laughing at Seth Rogen and James Franco getting stoned in the woods followed by gunfights and blown off limbs in the finale, somehow it just worked. The fantasy and comedy elements here seem like they belong in two separate films.
The comedy often comes from stoner humour which seems out of place when the fantasy is taken so seriously. There are some good chuckles to be had though. Justin Theroux as Leezar is particularly good, walking away with each scene by playing Leezar as a petulant child who has magical powers. There are also some funny scenes involving Fabious’s clockwork bird Simon and Thadeous attempts to get a similar pet in a lizard he names Stephen. During the finale Thadeous’s battle with a Minotaur leads to him taking a trophy which has to be seen to be believed. The cast all perform with pretty reasonable English accents, surprising considering that this is a spoof and many serious films (*cough Robin Hood *cough) cannot manage a believable accent. Danny McBride plays his usual character, an oafish man with a massive ego and inferiority complex but does well in his first lead role. James Franco is clearly having a lot of fun sending up the handsome prince charming role, delivering many of his cheesy lines earnestly and without irony. Sadly Natalie Portman is not much more than eye candy here but does get some good ass kicking scenes and of course the now infamous shot of her bathing in a silver bikini. The support is from mostly British thespians such as Damian Lewis, Toby Jones and Charles Dance all of whom shine in their limited screen time and seem more in on the joke than the main cast.
UltimatelyYour Highness is good value post pub viewing when its charms will work best on you. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have figured out a way to make all the elements work together. It may yet become a cult hit as taken separately the elements are brilliant, when meshed together not so much.
Extras: Theatrical and Extended Versions, Gag Reel, Damn you Gods: Making of, Line O-Rama, Perverted Visions, A Vision of Leezar Featurette, Audio Commentary, Alternate Scenes (blu-ray only), Deleted Scenes (blu-ray only), Extended Scenes (blu-ray only).
Your Highness is out now on DVD/Blu-ray