In the vaguely medieval-looking kingdom of Morn, Prince Fabious (James Franco) is the favorite son of the king (Charles Dance) and first in line to the throne. He is handsome and heroic, constantly on quests to foil the schemes of the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux).
Because of this, his younger brother, Thadeous (Danny McBride), has long ago stopped trying to live up to his brother, and has dedicated himself to becoming the best drunken layabout he can be. He loafs around the castle, smoking weed and taking advantage of chambermaids. He has an enflamed sense of self-worth but no discernible skills to back it up. But when Fabious’ bride, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) gets kidnapped by Leezar (Justin Theroux), Thadeous is told by the king that he must go along on the quest to retrieve her, despite being spectacularly unqualified for it.
Along the way, the brothers meet Isabel (Natalie Portman), a warrior woman who has a seemingly never-ending list of quests she must complete in order to avenge the myriad misdeeds done to her family. However, her current quest dovetails with the brothers’, so off they go, through a perilous landscape that features horny minotaurs, a sword made from unicorn bones and “booby traps” that have real boobies.
McBride, who co-wrote the script with his Eastbound and Down collaborator Ben Best, is good in another variation on his usual comic role: a blowhard who covers insecurity and incompetence with extreme braggadocio, but can’t help letting down the mask occasionally.
Franco has what could have been a fairly thankless straight-man role, but he gives an amusingly cheerful and serene version of the character, while still letting a fair amount of weirdness creep into the edges of his performance. Portman is a lot of fun as well. She plays everything straight, as if she’s in a serious fantasy movie, which makes all the ridiculousness surrounding her seem even funnier.
Rubber-faced Rasmus Hardiker is hilarious as Thadeous’ manservant Courtney. His job mainly consists of standing around the edges of scenes reacting to the other characters, but he’s consistently hilarious.
However, the movie’s real MVP is Theroux, who makes Leezar into the funniest character in the film. He has a lot of the movie’s best lines, but more impressive is the way he keeps getting stranger and stranger as the movie goes on, more bitter and weird and nerdy, turning the evil wizard into an oddly pitiable and endearing character.
It’s kind of amazing to me that the movie exists in the first place. The film is so demented and bizarre it’s hard to imagine how it was green-lit. Green once seemed like his generation’s answer to Terrence Malick, with weird, cerebral dramas such as George Washington and All the Real Girls. With Pineapple Express and this film, though, he revealed that he has other interests as well. He and McBride must have been among the large number of boys their age who loved Conan the Barbarian and all the cheap, crappy rip-offs that followed it. Now they want to have a little fun with the genre.
One of the things I liked most about the film is the way it doesn’t spoof particular scenes. Most poor excuses for parodies these days just regurgitate familiar scenes and think their job is done, mere recognition being a substitute for humor. With Your Highness, you can spot the movies its referencing—Krull, Clash of the Titans and Suspiria among them—but the film has a plot of its own that works as a story. As a result, it feels more like Blazing Saddles or Airplane! than Epic Movie or Vampires Suck.
Much of that, though, can probably be attributed to the fact that the filmmakers often don’t seem like they’re really trying to make fun of anything. You can feel their love of the genre coming through. They seem like they want to make a fantasy film of their own that is like The Sword and the Sorcerer or Yor, the Hunter from the Future, except that it’s funny on purpose. And has lots more cursing, nudity and minotaur dongs.
You can feel that adolescent love of the genre throughout the whole movie. It may have led to an excessive reliance on dick jokes and gay jokes, but not so much that it hurts the film, which finds as much humor in the characters’ personalities as anywhere else. Still, the film is funny throughout, delivering steady laughs, though it doesn’t necessarily reach the heights I hoped it would. The movie is more uneven than Pineapple Express, and can’t match the demented majesty of Eastbound and Down, but its raucous attitude and willingness to do absolutely anything for a laugh engender a lot of good will that helps to carry it over any rough spots.
Your Highness is too inconsistent to be the best film on any of its participants’ resumes, but it is a very funny film that has an admirably mercenary willingness to go anywhere for a laugh. The filmmakers’ obvious love of the genre doesn’t preclude them from taking it apart from the inside, giving us a fantasy film that works as an example of the genre while also skewering it mercilessly, delivering plenty of twisted laughs in the process.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.