starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel
screenplay by Danny R. McBride & Ben Best
directed by David Gordon Green
by Walter Chaw David Gordon Green continues his burnout trilogy with the medieval stoner swords & sorcery flick Your Highness, a sharp, incisive satire that rips the lid off the long-held secret of smart people-in-the-know that Red Sonja is a piece of shit. It's an extended, hostile slam of stuff like Clash of the Titans, and just because it's better than, say, Excalibur, that doesn't excuse it for being the kind of movie "Mystery Science Theater" would make if it made movies instead of taking shots at them from a privileged position. There's no love in Your Highness--replacing Harryhausen's clockwork Bubo with an animatronic crow that's resurrected from a trash heap in an offhand rejection of the Clash of the Titans remake doesn't go nearly far enough towards convincing me that Green and his writers, Danny McBride and Ben Best, actually give a damn about the genre or any of its key films. I'm not sure the genre merits much respect, frankly, but all I'm really certain of after this one is that the filmmakers thought Ladyhawke would be a lot better with a fat slob saying "fuck" and wearing a penis around his neck. Indeed, in case you were wondering, Your Highness is in the same family as the asshole who writes "faggot" on your forehead in Sharpie while you're sleeping.
Slovenly prince Thadeous (McBride) is obsessed with pussy and smoking weed and deeply resents pretty-boy brother Fabious (James Franco), who is obsessed with slaying Cyclops(es?) and rescuing virgins. When one such virgin (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux) to serve as the sperm receptacle for him in the event of the mythical Fuckening (seriously), well, what choice do Thadeous and Fabious have but to join reluctant forces and set out on a noble quest to slay the foul villain and rescue the...oh Jesus, who gives, as the film says, two turtle shits about any of it? Somewhere along the way, they team up with woman warrior Isabel (Natalie Portman, proudly opining about her beaver fresh off an Oscar win), who reveals at some point a stunt-crotch who will no doubt bash Portman in a few months' time and take the lustre entirely off the complete failure of this Year One redux.
With even the retro special effects feeling angry instead of nostalgic, Your Highness grates particularly because it's not trying very hard to be interesting or funny. It has a sequence involving child molestation that seems to take inspiration in suggesting that characters like Yoda were probably pedophiles, meaning that, again, Green and McBride are pulling humour from the sort of speculation your moron, ganja-addled college roommate would appreciate. Hey, I bet that big dude in Krull was a fag! Y'know what, I bet he wasn't--and, more, I don't know how funny it would be if he were and, being gay, were also interested in little boys. Your Highness also gives us a lot of boobs courtesy a band of Amazons at the beck of a Zach Snyder grotesque (John Fricker), though their presence, like a promising early gag involving the virgin not knowing how to use a fork (that's only promising for the amount of time it takes one to realize that it's a gag the frickin' Little Mermaid did better), isn't augmented by jokes per se so much as expected to be hilarious for the fact of itself. It's a mordant, deadpan, punchline-less Mel Brooks movie, and it's not saying too much to say that it doesn't work. At all.
The lingering aftertaste of Your Highness, though, through all the jerking-off jokes and blowjob jokes and dick jokes, is one of repugnant superiority. (Ditto Green's Pineapple Express.) It's a movie taking on other movies that it believes it's better than; maybe Green's background in the arthouse, with tastes that run strongly into more than a casual conversance with classics of the New Hollywood period, overflows overmuch into his approach. It's talking down to a genre that's actually produced a couple of classics (Dragonslayer, for instance) and, worse, it's talking down to its audience every time it settles for the easy laugh. It relies--with disastrous results--on McBride's improvisational ability, and when it resorts to a handful of action scenes, it reveals ace DP Tim Orr as someone who probably shouldn't be shooting action scenes, given, as he is, to the meaningful close-up and oblique long-shot through acres of foreground. An unmitigated disaster, Your Highness elicits a couple of chuckles, but they're the indulgent, weary, superior chuckles of people who feel as though they're smarter than Your Highness, which, at the end of the day, is probably what Green's going for all along. You win this round, David--I'm as big a prick as you. Originally published: April 8, 2011.