Universal // 2011 // 106 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // August 9th, 2011
"Handle your shit Fabious, please."
Given my love for cheesy '80s fantasy epics like Conan The Barbarian and Excalibur, I was excited to see how a stoner-comedy/fantasy-epic genre mash-up would work. The inclusion of James Franco (Freaks and Geeks) and Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down), along with David Gordon Green (Undertow) in the director's chair was enticing, considering their previous efforts together. Pineapple Express may have been flawed, but it was still a decent action/stoner-comedy. Unfortunately, watching Your Highness a second time only makes its flaws more apparent.
Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) would much rather be smoking pot with trolls and trying to sleep with The Dwarf King's wife than out bravely questing for glory like his brother Fabious (James Franco). And yet Thadeous still wonders why the whole kingdom bends a knee for his prat of a brother. When Fabious' bride-to-be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer), is stolen by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux, The Baxter) for an ancient and evil ritual called The Fuckening, Thadeous must begrudgingly accompany his brother on a quest to save the fair maiden and slay the dark sorcerer.
Between Will Ferrell's (Step Brothers) buddies and the Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) entourage, improvisational comedy has pretty much dominated the genre the last seven or eight years. While a bunch of friends standing in front of a camera and riffing off can be a great way to create an organic style of comedy, in order for it to work you need two things: 1) a director willing to put their foot down and steer the overall vision, and 2) a strong editor. My issue with Pineapple Express is that David Gordon Green seemed either too afraid of or friendly with his big name actors that it prevented him from telling them when to tone it down and follow the script. This led to a detrimental sense of excess and a lack of control, both on set and in the editing room. Even a few seconds trimmed here and there would have salvaged some scenes.
With Your Highness, the issues are even worse. Practically every joke is thrown off-the-cuff, following the most barebones of a structure. There's only so many dick jokes one person can laugh at before it gets old, while hyper violence and profanity are not as funny as everyone involved here seems to think. The vulgarity does work on occasion, most notably in a scene involving a minotaur's penis and a Jim Henson inspired puppet with a penchant for molesting boys. But a large majority of the movie is stuff only a fourteen year old boy would laugh at. While that may be the point, it simply isn't enough.
One can admire screenwriters Danny McBride and Ben Best (The Foot Fist Way) for wanting to lovingly spoof the enjoyable yet generic fantasy movies they must have grown up with. As such, Your Highness is at its best when mercilessly satirizing the conventions of an admittedly paint-by-numbers genre. Fabious and Thadeous should play off each other wonderfully, with Franco and McBride sharing a great sense of chemistry as two polar opposites thrust into one outrageous situation after the next. But one still can't help feeling we're just watching two friends having fun dicking around on set, neither getting enough comedic meat out of what they've been given. The better comedic match-up is between Thadeous and his squire Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker, Starter For Ten), a pairing that plays completely against type. Courtney is not the quick-witted, affable squire quick with a bit of advice in a time of desperate need. Instead, he's much more a partner in crime who constantly abets the wrongdoings and immaturity of Thadeous. The chemistry between McBride and Hardiker is pitch-perfect, almost never a fumbled joke between the two. The film is also buoyed by Natalie Portman (Thor) as Isabel, a loving play on the genre's warrior-on-a-quest-for-vengeance convention. Portman plays it straight in a room full of goofs and nails it. In fact, it's almost worth watching Your Highness just to see what she did after her Oscar winning turn in Black Swan; polar opposite roles.
It's difficult to sit here and blame so much of the film's faults on David Gordon Green, a talented director who made the choice to play the film like any other high production value fantasy. The sets and costumes are extraordinarily lavish. His camerawork, along with cinematographer Tim Orr (Choke), wrings every last bit of thematic quality from the frame. And yet it still isn't enough to counteract the fact that the jokes and overarching sense of humor was getting away from him. Your Highness had the potential to be something unique and inspired, but turns out to be a massive disappointment.
That said, this Blu-ray treatment from Universal is no slouch. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is as crisp as a cold fall apple (come on, I'm allowed at least one cheesy simile). The film's lush color palette and fine detail pops, almost to a point of veering way too far into unnatural territory. It's an artistic decision on Green's part, and the Blu-ray only amplifies. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio has trouble with the dialogue, at many points being swallowed by on-screen action or the musical underscore. It's a bombastic track that melds all the noise into one massive wall of sound, instead of giving each separate channel its own distinctive purpose, and I found myself having to balance it out.
The bonus features are surprisingly robust. The unrated version is six minutes longer than the theatrical cut, the only difference being a few extended scenes and one completely new piece which is one long, stale joke about having sex with bridesmaids. There's 15 minutes of extended scenes and a feature called "Line-O-Rama" which is a montage of alternate jokes that weren't as good as the crappy ones used in the film. "Perverted Visions" is a collection of outtakes from my favorite scene where the two brothers must seek advice from a deviant wizard. There's also "A Vision of Leezar" which is a short collection of outtakes centered around the villain. These four features are all Blu-ray exclusive content, none of which is exciting. Up next is your average "Making Of" featurette, gag reel, and yet another collection of scenes that have been trimmed or deleted for obvious reasons. Rounding out the set is a commentary from David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, James Franco, and Justin Theroux who sit around and discuss everything you could want to know about Your Highness. It's a surprisingly non-airy commentary, delving right into the film's influences, how it was making the film, and what was cut from the screenplay. It's certainly worth a listen.
Though by no means advised, getting stoned will only help make the vulgar and uninspired humor funnier than it should be. In my case, it would only makes the flaws more apparent. Your Highness is a film ruined by the very improvisational comedy that defines it, though presented as a worthy Blu-ray.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Extended/Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy