Over the last five years, Danny McBride and Ben Best have crafted a fruitful partnership, with the comedian and writer / actor / producer duo combining across a range of projects. From the cult feature The Foot Fist Way to television series Eastbound And Down, and including appearances alongside each other in Superbad, Observe And Report and Land Of The Lost, the pair have maintained a considerable connection over their brief yet lucrative careers. Your Highness represents their latest effort, with the constant collaborators sharing scripting duties of the fantasy offering. Directed by fellow long-term colleague David Gordon Green, the purported parody apes and spoofs everything from the Lord Of The Rings to Star Wars, Monty Python to Blackadder, The Princess Bride to Labyrinth, Indiana Jones to Harry Potter and The Sword In The Stone to King Arthur as it presents a tale of two brothers thrust into an epic adventure.
Although his life is filled with the luxuries befitting his station, Prince Thadeous (McBride) remains steeped in the shadow of his older brother Fabious (James Franco, 127 Hours). Content with womanising and drinking whilst his sibling impresses with his military prowess, Thadeous remains a disappointment in the eyes of their father, King Tallious (Charles Dance, Starter For 10). When Fabious returns with the beautiful Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days Of Summer) as his bride to be, Thadeous’ jealousy continues to simmer. Alas, the intervention of the evil Leezar (Justin Theroux, Megamind) stalls the ceremony at the last minute, forcing the brothers and their offsiders (including Saxondale’s Rasmus Hardicker, The Rite’s Toby Jones, The Escapist’s Damian Lewis and Bunny And The Bull’s Simon Farnaby) on a quest to reclaim Belladonna with the help of feisty fighter Isabel (Natalie Portman, Black Swan).
Your Highness tries to be a stoner version of The Princess Bride, but fails to live up to the dizzying heights of either genre or film. In fact, it just fails for the most part, producing an unreliable mixture of homophobic humour, anachronistic puns and the kind of dick jokes that most audiences grew out of by the early years of high school. The problems begin with the fundamentally broken script, from frequent collaborators McBride and Best, that telegraphs its tone from the opening scrawl that mocks fantasy epics with the throwaway voiceover line “and other important shit”. In this briefest of moments, Your Highness has the promise of being the parody that some of the more recent bloated sword and sorcery epics deserve. However, the only thing that separates this film from the run-of-the-mill spoof films (Scary Movie, Vampires Suck, Superhero Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans) is the stellar cast that has attached itself to this mostly awful joke-fest. Oscar nominee James Franco may have deserved this after his co-hosting stint at the Academy Awards this year, something he painfully reminds us of during his song sequence in Your Highness, but poor Natalie Portman can committed no cinematic sins of late. Unless you count No Strings Attached.
Your Highness has its (very rare) moments, and McBride makes a likeable enough leading man, and the visual effects are at times quite good. Yet it is not a role he slips into comfortably, masking his uncertainty with the role in a phony British accent and quite literally dangling a phallus around his neck to distract from the lack of substance. Like last year’s Gulliver’s Travels, all of the of the US cast members have chosen to adopt a faux British accent, perhaps presuming that this alone would ensure that the sometimes offensive gags about paedophilia, rape, homophobia, and masturbation would translate as chuckle-worthy. There are a number of lines that may have actually worked if delivered in their native accents, particular Zooey Deschanel, who seems contractually obliged to sing in every film now. Yet like the rest of the film, it is desperately trying to be something that it is not.
The Reel Bits: A misguided misfire of a fantasy spoof, that only occasionally manages to raise a smile, let alone a chuckle. Even the talented cast can’t rescue this damsel in distress. Best enjoyed under the influence.
Your Highness was released in Australia on 12 May 2011 from Universal.