YOUR HIGHNESS is one of the most strangely-reviled movies of the past couple years. Why? 2011 was a year that inflicted upon us BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, HALL PASS, SUCKER PUNCH, COWBOYS & ALIENS, SOUL SURFER, a remake of THE THING, another BIG MOMMA movie, another TRANSFORMERS movie, a Justin Timberlake action movie, a Justin Timberlake romantic comedy, an Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy, a Russell Brand movie, a Kevin James movie, two Adam Sandler movies, and like three Tyler Perry movies. Which, by the way, were totally redundant after the BIG MOMMA movie. There’s plenty of horseshit to revile before getting all worked up over a harmlessly crude medieval weed-comedy. You’re really going to tell me, after that Fassbender-length list of SHAME, that YOUR HIGHNESS is the one that turns your tummies?
Yes, internet, I loved this movie. Sorry! Was I not supposed to enjoy a silly-stupid sword-and-sorcery movie starring Danny McBride and James Franco? Because it kind of feels like they made it with me in mind. It could be a fair ways better than it is, sure, but it’s still pretty fun. Danny McBride, his co-writer Ben Best, and director David Gordon Green deserve our lifetime allegiance for EASTBOUND & DOWN, and James Franco (you know, from SPIDER-MAN 2 and MILK and 127 HOURS and many other admirable ventures) has done plenty to earn the benefit of the doubt in his own right.
Franco plays the heroic warrior on a quest to save his true love (Zooey Deschanel), who has been stolen away by a powerful and disgusting wizard. McBride is his boorish, self-centered younger brother, forced to accompany him on his quest by their father (Charles Dance, who is now on GAME OF THRONES but is best known to me from THE GOLDEN CHILD). Franco can be an anarchic presence himself, but here he gamely and perfectly plays the over-earnest straight man to McBride’s loud-mouthed lout. To me, Franco and McBride’s not-even-trying British period accents and sometimes-camaraderie/ sometimes-enmity are a total gas. I also deeply, deeply love that the guys each get BEASTMASTER-style animal sidekicks.
The problem with this movie, I think, is that the villains are just too gross and not at all menacing. In this kind of effects-based comedy, the bad guys ultimately need to be a little bit scary – they can’t be competing for punchlines, the way the bad guys are here. Think of Gozer The Gozerian in GHOSTBUSTERS, think of David Lo Pan in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, think of Victor Maitland in BEVERLY HILLS COP. Hell, think of Charles Dance in THE GOLDEN CHILD. Those are solid villains because they are played as if not entirely aware they’re in a comedy. You really believe that they want to destroy the heroes. If Justin Theroux and, in particular, Damian Lewis had been allowed to play it straight, I think YOUR HIGHNESS would have worked a lot better.
It’s probably also true that the movie is a bit remedial when it comes to the matter of women. Zooey Deschanel is game for whatever she’s asked to do in the movie, but ultimately this is a guys’ showcase. The attempt to include Natalie Portman as a Xena-style warrior princess who helps the brothers out is a good impulse, but as it plays, she’s just another foil for McBride, a pong-paddle to his bouncing pink ball, or balls as it were.
As it is, YOUR HIGHNESS is juvenile and a bit of a mess, but it still cracks me up. If only for the fact that it has both a minotaur and a dragon — if only for the fact that I can’t be unsure that these guys didn’t come up with most of the ideas for the movie while watching WILLOW — if only for the scene with the Wise Wizard, which I still can hardly wrap my mind around on account of how insanely funny it is to me — this movie entirely justifies its existence.
Maybe it’s just me and my weird sense of humor. Maybe the idea of a $50 million studio movie where two movie stars talk to a really crappy puppet is only targeted to my hyper-specific sense of humor.
Or maybe a lot of people need to lighten the fuck up. Could be either one. Just to be safe: smile!
P.S. If you like YOUR HIGHNESS, check out my review of 1982’s CONQUEST. That’s a similar movie that is nearly as funny, but not even remotely on purpose.
And this has been an expanded version of a bit I did for my pal at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Check his site out!
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