CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: YOUR HIGHNESS (2011)
By L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a medieval castle. L.L. SOARES is dressed in period clothing, wandering about the place)
LS: So I was waiting for Michael to show up and accidentally fell into his hot tub time machine, and now I’m here, in this place. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to my own time.
(A mechanical BIRD flies in through a window and lands on LS’s shoulder)
BIRD: Movie review! Movie review!
LS: Do you bring word from Mr. Arruda about our review this day?
BIRD: Nope. He’s reviewing another movie called HANNA. You’re on your own for this one.
LS: Is that so! That dastardly villain tricked me!
BIRD: You were tricked. HA HA.
LS: Well, since I’m trapped here, I might as well review the new Danny McBride comedy, YOUR HIGHNESS. Especially since it features a host of fantasy elements like dragons and minotaurs.
BIRD: Yep, get to the review already.
LS: Okay. Well, I’ve been a fan of comedian Danny McBride for a while now. I first noticed him in the supporting role as Red in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008), which made me seek out his first movie in a leading role, THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006), a small indie film where he played an obnoxious jerk of a karate instructor. FOOT FIST made the film festival circuit for a bit and was McBride’s ticket to bigger things. He also had a stand-out role as the pyrotechnics guy in TROPIC THUNDER (2009). Unfortunately, he’s also appeared in some clunkers like 2009’s LAND OF THE LOST.
For those who’ve been following his career, McBride’s best role thus far has been on the HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, where he plays Kenny Powers, a former baseball star who was fired for steroid use and is trying to make a comeback. Kenny is a complete jerk (see a pattern here?) but despite all of his offensive behavior, there’s something strangely likable about him. EASTBOUND AND DOWN is a terrific show, but can someone make such an unpleasant type of character work in a big budget Hollywood film?
BIRD: Tell us already!
LS: Well, yes and no. YOUR HIGHNESS is the first leading role for McBride in a movie that was made for a big studio, and it’s an uneven affair. McBride plays Prince Thadeous, a pompous ass and a coward, who stayed home while his heroic brother Fabious (James Franco) was out defending the kingdom and slaying monsters. When Fabious returns from a recent quest where he slew a monstrous Cyclops (he’s brought the severed head back as a souveneir), Thadeous is enraged to be back in his much-loved brother’s shadow. And not only is Fabious back, he has brought a girl with him, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) who had been a prisoner in the Cyclops’s tower. Fabious declares that they will be married and that he wants Thadeous to be his best man. But Thadeous would much rather sneak out and get stoned with bogmen and his constant companion, his court jester Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker).
Thadeous’s mettle, however, is put to the test, when Fabious’s wedding is interrupted by the wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), the master of the Cyclops and the imprisoner of Belladonna, who demands his virgin back (he has planned to use her in an upcoming ritual). Fabious and his men attempt to protect her, but no one has a chance against Leezar’s magic, especially when three witches come to his aid (one of which is his mother), and Belladonna is whisked away to Leezar’s tower.
Fabious goes on a journey to save his bride to be, and King Tallious (Charles Dance) demands that Thadeous join Fabious on his quest. “It’s high time you became a man.”
What unfolds of course, is the familiar Hollywood tale of redemption, which McBride molds into his own image, with mixed results. We are basically treated to a parody of those medieval quest movies where there are ogres, dragons, and wizards. Here, they’re all played for laughs, including a perverted Yoda-like character called the White Wizard (Fabious goes to him for advice, but the muppet-like wizard’s motives are a bit disturbing), a five headed dragon, a minotaur, and a female warrior out for revenge, played by Natalie Portman, who is quite ravishing in this role. Too bad she’s not onscreen all that much.
Early on in the quest, Fabious’s men betray him (it turns out they’ve been working for Leezar). Led by Damien Lewis (probably best known for his role in HBO’s BAND OF BROTHERS, but also check him out in the DVD of the canceled show LIFE, which was actually pretty great, and the indie movie KEANE (2004)) as Boremont, the soldiers attempt to enslave Fabious and bring him to their master, but he gets away, and it’s Fabious, Thadeous and Courtney on their own to find an enchanted sword made from a unicorn’s horn and saving Belladonna from her prison.
BIRD: Don’t forget me.
LS: Oh yeah, Fabious has a pet bird in the movie, but he’s a mechanical creature. A steampunk anachronism of sorts, which was obviously a tip of the hat to the original CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), which featured a robotic owl.
(BIRD begins to sing)
LS: Oh be quiet, you foul fowl. I am doing a review here.
BIRD: Get bent! (the BIRD takes off, taking a poo as it goes. LS wipes at an oil stain on his shirt)
LS (shaking his fist at the sky) You mechanical menace!
Um, excuse me.
Overall, the movie is funny, but there are few real laugh-out-loud moments I’m not sure how well McBride’s obnoxious jerk character translates into a fantasy scenario, but he does have his moments. McBride is a really funny guy and I don’t think this movie was as good of a showcase of his talents as it could have been.
James Franco is excellent as Fabious, the heroic and dimwitted brother to Thadeous. He’s so nice and so selfless in his motives that it’s hard not to like him. Even Thadeous can’t help but envy him.
(A DRAGON sticks his head into a window)
DRAGON: Yeah, Franco is always good. Unless he’s hosting the Oscars.
LS: Portman, as the warrior Isabel (she’s like Xena’s cousin!), is great in her scenes, and what a nice butt we get to see in a bathing-in-the-river scene. And Rasmus Hardiker is terrific as Courtney. In fact, the entire cast is quite good here. I just wish the script could have been a bit funnier.
Director David Gordon Green started out making small, intense films like GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000) and UNDERTOW (2004), which were both effective, independent dramas. Then he somehow got in with the “wrong crowd” and became a big-budget comedy director. The difference in the movie styles is unsettling. Green’s comic output has included PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (which also starred Franco and had McBride in a big supporting role) and episodes of EASTBOUND AND DOWN (McBride’s television series), and while he is a skillful director, his comedy work is pretty quirky and not necessarily mainstream (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just won’t appeal to everyone). This works in something like EASTBOUND, where the boundaries are not so tight, and there’s freer reign to let McBride be as unlikable as he wants. In the context of a commercial Hollywood movie, which has its own set of rules, things are a little more restricted, and the jokes don’t always work.
Perhaps it’s the fantasy element of the movie that makes everything seem a little off its rhythm. The special effects are fine, and there are some interesting scenes, including a bizarre run-in with Amazon warriors in the forest, led by a strange, child-like king (despite his large physical size) who creates monsters by submerging his hand into a pot of what looked like porridge, and having it coming out the other end as a beast rising from the ground (a quite elaborate, and fascinating concept). The scene with the minotaur is also pretty good, including a scene where the monster bears an erection and tries to molest poor Courtney (Thadeous severs the appendage after they defeat the monster, and wears it around his neck). And a scene where a traitorous footman named Julie (Toby Jones) is stripped—revealing a very strange secret—is quite funny.
Overall, I liked YOUR HIGHNESS. There was enough good acting and good direction to keep me interested. And certain scenes were pretty funny. I just wish there were more laughs throughout the film.
I give it two and a half knives. Check it out at a matinee or wait til it comes to Netflix. Either way, you’re better off renting EASTBOUND AND DOWN instead.
(BIRD flies back)
BIRD: Time to go back. Time to go back.
LS: What are you talking about?
(BIRD raises a wing toward a sign that reads “This Way to Get Back to the Future.“)
LS: Splendid. I can go home now!
BIRD: I’m a good bird. I’m a good bird.
LS: Oh shut up!
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
L.L. Soares gives YOUR HIGHNESS – 2 and a half knives!