April 9, 2011

YOUR HIGHNESS: Ye Olde Disaster

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Not Even For Free
Let’s give a little love to the devious people at Universal who cut the trailers.  The masterminds behind the red-band for YOUR HIGHNESS managed to find, in its 102 dull minutes, roughly 3 and a half that, when cut together with fiendish skill, suggested the movie had actual laughs.  Bow to their genius!  (Is it too late to take back everything bad I said about Arthur?)
It’s not as though anyone expected high art from Your Highness, or even something particularly original.  Anachronistic genre humor isn’t anything new:  Monty Python, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks are among those who’ve shown how brilliant it can be.  As long as it’s–what’s the word?–funny. The script is by Danny McBride (who also stars) and Ben Best, and it’s directed by David Gordon Green, who after a first career making esoteric art films like George Washington and Snow Angels, segued strongly to comedy with Pineapple Express, as well as episodes of the McBride/Best HBO series “Eastbound and Down”–these guys aren’t amateurs.  But this time they don’t get anything right, from attitude to dialogue. I’d compare it to last year’s Land of the Lost, but–and this pains me to say–Land was better.

The plot, if anyone cares, is serviceable enough.  A kingdom has 2 princes:  Fabious (James Franco), who as his name implies is perfectly heroic, and Thaddeous (McBride), who is a Danny McBride character.  Fabious’ virgin princess fiance (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by an evil wizard (Justin Theroux), with the aim of raping her during a magical eclipse so he can create a dragon, and the brothers go after them, aided along the way by a warrior on her own quest (Natalie Portman).  A decent enough framework to hang some jokes, you’d think. 
Except they left out the jokes.  Instead, characters–particularly McBride–say 4-letter words as though it’s a novelty, which maybe it would be if the goal was to make 11-year olds snicker.  It’s not even a stoner comedy, because there are maybe half a dozen weed jokes in the whole picture.   The movie just sits there and asks to be laughed at, like the spoiled nephew at a family party who insists that he’s funny.
Truly it’s a puzzle, because everyone here has been part of good comedy in the past.  Admittedly, McBride isn’t much interested in range (except for his nicely restrained bit in Up In the Air):  the role of Thaddeous, obliviously loud-mouthed and unaware how pathetic he is, is a cousin to McBride’s Kenny Powers on “Eastbound” (not to mention his character in Foot Fist Way, also written with Best) and while that show’s an acquired taste, McBride knows exactly how to work the gears on Kenny so that he’s a funny horror.  Here, of all things, he’s just bland.  Franco, who was thoroughly amusing as the amiable dealer in Pineapple Express, never seems to get a handle on Fabious, who’s neither smug nor exaggeratedly heroic–it’s like somebody had to remind Franco every morning that he was in the movie.  Portman (who doesn’t enter the movie till the 2d half) brings some much-needed style and class to her part, but the script almost never lets her be funny–and Deschanel gets to do even less (these guys run a strictly boys’ club).  The picture lurches from one set-piece to the next and ties up the loose ends of its story as though that’s what the audience cares about; it doesn’t begin to have the improvisational inspiration of Pineapple or the other comedies the group has done. 
According to what they’ve said in interviews, McBride and Best spent years writing and rewriting the script of Your Highness until they were in a position to get it made, and maybe that was the problem–by the time it was a go, all the freshness had drained out of it.  For audiences, though, what remains is a stolid bore; at least at Medieval Times there’s some jousting.
(YOUR HIGHNESS – Universal – 102 minutes – R – Director:  David Gordon Green – Script:  Danny McBride, Ben Best – Cast:  McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Damien Lewis, Toby Jones – Wide Release)


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."