The target audience for “Your Highness” is at least four years too young to legally watch it. The film is part spoof, part celebration of the schlocky fantasy films of the ’70s and ’80s which hastened a generation of boys into puberty when their copious servings of blood and nudity appeared on late night cable. “Your Highness,” a sort of fantasy of fantasy, was made by two alumni of that generation: director David Gordon Green and co-writer and star Danny McBride. What they’ve done is pay it forward, cinematically speaking: they loved these sorts of movies as kids and now they’ve made this sort of movie for kids today, only it’s even more violent and booblicious and way more vulgar than any of the ones that inspired them. I’m sure it will delight those young, impressionable horny minds, though I’m not sure “Your Highness” will strike as deep a resonant chord with anyone else.
McBride plays Thadeous, a medieval prince living in the shadow of his cooler, braver brother Fabious (James Franco). I want to call Thadeous a classic McBride hero in the mold of his characters from “The Foot Fist Way” and “Eastbound and Down” but he’s missing a key ingredient. Thadeous bears McBride’s standard narcissism, laziness, and foul mouth, but he lacks the sinister core of sexism, cruelty, and hardness that makes Fred Simmons and Kenny Powers more complicated than buffoons. In other words, Thadeous is a buffoon, albeit an occasionally amusing one.
Fabious’ bride-to-be Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by an evil, horny wizard named Leezar (Justin Theroux) so it’s up to the two brothers to quest for the magical weapons they’ll need to rescue her. Along the way there are wizards to smoke “herbs” with, bare-breasted Amazon hordes to ogle, and many MANY dick jokes to crack, some so visually prolonged and — well “ballsy” isn’t quite the right word given the context, but whatever you want to call them they’re so insane and in your face that you can’t believe the movie managed to sneak through the ratings board with an R.
Someone who enjoyed “Your Highness” more than I did will probably argue that it’s a filthy-minded, potty-mouthed parody of the immaturity of those old school fantasy films and there is definitely some evidence to support that argument. Pettiness in a world of chivalry is pretty funny, and there is some real pettiness on display here: one villain turns to the dark side because he was passed over for the position of Best Man at a wedding. It is sort of charming to watch the bloated self-importance of period films get deflated by an avalanche of profanity. But you can only pop a balloon so many times until you’re just poking a pin into a flabby, shriveled piece of rubber. Green and McBride take the stuffing out of these movies, but they don’t put a whole lot back in except a lot of variations on the eff word.
Though I’m typically a huge McBride fan, stripped of his dark side because of what may have been this multimillion dollar production about minotaur penises’ one concession to a mainstream audience, he isn’t quite the same. So I found myself more drawn to his supporting cast, particularly the hysterical Theroux as the sexually frustrated sorcerer. When you get right down to it, Leezar isn’t all that different than Thadeous: powerful but impotent with women, jealous of James Franco’s awesome hair, and pitifully lonely. If he wasn’t so hellbent on raping Belladonna to impregnate her with a dragon fetus, he wouldn’t be such a bad guy, and that’s how Theroux plays him: sinister but also kind of pathetic (sample Leezar pickup line: “I’m rich, I live in a castle, and I do fucking magic!”).
Natalie Portman’s good too as the first Best Actress Oscar winner to immediately follow her award winning performance with a medieval stoner flick where she makes jokes about her vagina. She plays Isabel, a lone warrior questing across the countryside in search of revenge for the slaughter of her family. To appease that 13-year-old boy audience she also has a scene where she bathes in a thong, and if any thong bathing scene ever deserved to be discussed in the same paragraph as the words “Oscar winner,” it is this one. The biggest waste of a cast member is Deschanel, who has a really great comedic setup for a character — Belladonna has spent her entire life locked up in a tower which has made her incredibly stupid — but almost zero opportunities to pay it off.
I have to admit, as an admirer of its filmmakers, “Your Highness” disappointed me. I laughed, even laughed hard a few times, but I also sat quietly for long stretches. The extreme to which Green, McBride, and co-writer Ben Best went to send-up these sword and sorcery films of their youth is kind of incredible. McBride’s character aside, they made very few concessions to whitebread moviegoer tastes. But maybe they went a little too far pleasing their inner 12-year-olds. My inner 12-year-old was amused. My outer 30-year-old wanted a little bit more.