Review: ‘Your Highness’

Will Leitch
These two are brothers. Universal
These two are brothers. Universal

1. I laughed a lot during "Your Highness," but, like many adult males, I'm not all that different than I was at 15 years old. The opening credits of "Your Highness" are a clue as to what you're in for. Briefly after meeting Thadeous (Danny McBride) as he escapes from a gaggle of angry little people -- I'll confess, not even the 15-year-old me laughs at little people -- we get an animated credit sequence that looks like an old illustrated Chaucer textbook. But in the margins of the "book," there are little doodles of penises, and excrement, and boobs. That's what "Your Highness" is: It is a 15-year-old drawing genitalia in a textbook. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. I kept thinking of the Woody Allen of "Love and Death" and the court jester sequence of "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)" when watching McBride (who co-wrote the script), who basically plays the modern-day McBride character roaming around medieval times, with his current sensibilities. (When he learns he's going to have to fight a dragon, he merely says, "F--k that." That's probably what I'd say too.) He is a lazy, stoner prince with a heroic brother (named Fabious, and played by James Franco, as if those two humans could possibly swim in the same gene pool) who must prove himself in a quest to save his brother's kidnapped fiancee (an appropriately corset-ed Zooey Deschanel). Along the way, they meet mythical monsters, and evil wizards, and a fellow nobleperson warrior who, if I didn't know any better, I'd say is played by Natalie Portman. (At one point, Portman actually says, "that burns my beaver," which has to be the quickest turnaround from "pregnant Oscar winner" to "beaver joke purveyor" in cinematic history.) The whole cast is game and talking in ridiculous British accents and clearly having a grand old time with all this.

3. This is aggressively silly -- this movie is obsessed with the penis, whether it's a trophy from a vanquished minotaur, or a surreal sequence in which we learn a major character is, in fact, a eunuch -- and your mileage for tolerance of this sort of business may vary. The story is an uneven as you'd expect from a movie like this; our knights just sort of stumble into one situation after the other, Thadeous cowardly, Fabious heroic, and a various monsters popping up so the movie has something to spend its budget on. It doesn't have the oddly touching bromance that "Pineapple Express" -- also directed by once-beloved indie director David Gordon Green -- curated at its center, largely because of Franco's vacant, bored performance. (Green, whose career has gone so far off the path it was traveling on that you wonder if it's a joke he's playing on the universe, seems to have lost his eye for composition with this film; he's too busy rushing from one set piece to another to give the frame his usual meticulous care.) As for Franco, I'm beginning to wonder if he was always like this, and we all just let it slide because he was subverting what we thought an impossibly handsome actor was supposed to be. After the Oscars, though, Franco's going to have to start bringing more game. Merely showing up isn't enough anymore; it's not as surprising to see him in a movie like this as it once was, and you keep expecting him to have a little more fun. He's barely a presence at all.

4. Many of the laughs come from Justin Theroux, as the sexually frustrated evil wizard who kidnaps Deschanel, who chews and relishes every line like he was the cast member who most desperately needed the audience to remember him when the film was over. I also enjoyed a sequence with an all-naked female village led by exactly a man who's the exact opposite of who you think would lead an all-naked female village. And hey, when she's over that whole pregnancy thing, Portman might make a fun Angelina Jolie-esque action hero. She certainly looks more confident kicking arse than Franco or McBride do. (There's also a great riff on the old "Star Trek" practice of redshirts -- the random, anonymous actor who shows up on a mission with our main, recognizable characters, existing solely to be killed first -- that had me roaring.)

5. This is one of those movies that impress you simply by existing. Only with the star power of Franco and Portman could you make a stoner comedy set in Chaucerian times, with demons and castles and moats and mechanical birds and evil witches. It's strange, because this isn't a satire of anything, not some sort of winking, nudging "aren't the movies we're referencing terrible?" going on. This is simply a straightforward knight quest, except the knights are lead by Kenny Powers and everyone is obsessed with penises and poo and the eff-word. If you're in the right mood for that, you'll laugh a lot and breeze past the dry spot. If you're not, you'll hate "Your Highness." But everyone doodled genitalia in the margins of their notebook at some point. This is a whole movie of that. I laughed. This is teenage junk trash rendered lovingly. I see no problem with that. And if I ever kill a minotaur, I know what I'm taking as a trophy.

Grade: B