Directed by David Gordon Green
If in 2001 you were to predict that the next decade would see the Red Sox, White Sox, and Giants win the World Series; a half-black, foreign-born Marxist (JK, obvs) become President of the United States; and the director of George Washington go on to make medieval stoner comedies, you would have been laughed at and perhaps a little pitied. Actually, for the last entry most people wouldn't have known whom you were talking about; lest we forget, however, David Gordon Green was once heralded as something of a homegrown wunderkind for his abovementioned debut indie film, a pretentious piece of Southern "lyricism" that had critics labeling him the next Terrence Malick, and other such ill-fitting superlatives.
But starting in 2008 with the Judd Apatow-co-produced and -co-written Pineapple Express, dudish yucks have been the norm for Green. Considering his previous run of lackluster low-budget efforts (All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels) one might welcome this move, and even detect the career-spanning marijuana-fueled prankishness that prepared him for it. If only Green teamed up with more worthwhile collaborators: where Pineapple Express's action movie parody sagged under the whiny presence of Seth Rogen and the rambling, gay panic-laden script he helped pen, Your Highness mostly jettisons its High Times-meets-the-Middle-Ages concept (the title is something of a misnomer: there are barely four pot jokes in the entire film) for cheap, anachronistic f-bombings and that ol' crowd-pleasing gay panic.
As written by Danny McBride and Ben Best—partners also on The Foot Fist Way and HBO’s Eastbound and Down—Your Highness's plot sends up the traditional loch- and castle-set fantasy adventures of knights, damsels, and dragons. McBride plays Thadeous, the indolent, cowardly, jealous and obnoxious brother of handsome, heroic first-born prince Fabious (James Franco), both of whom—with the help of Natalie Portman's vengeance-seeking high-plains warrior—embark on a mission to save Fabious's wizard-abducted virgin bride (Zooey Deschanel). Much humor is derived from the simple contrast of McBride's leering dough-face and full-on mullet against intentionally clichéd Ren Fair trappings; Franco and Justin Theroux as the impotent, tooth-rotting warlock provide high-energy performances both straight and scene-stealing.
Yet missed opportunities abound. With a wispy teenage mustache and a haircut that "looks like the head of a penis," Rasmus Hadiker sure looks funny in the role of Courtney, Thadeous's manservant, but has little to do other than receive intermittent mistreatment. A majority of the film's battles are actually too good, not so much silly, slapstick versions of sword and chainmail bouts as perfunctorily gory and—in the case of Thadeous and crew's meeting with a barbarous, overgrown-baby albino king and the five-headed beast he creates when daubing his hand in a pot of butternut squash-like goo—eerily surreal sequences in their own right.
But the most disappointing aspect of Your Highness is its consistent laziness. McBride and Best's game plan largely boils down to deflating the medieval genre's pompous Olde English dialogue and bosom-heaving, armor-clanging mythology with cuss words, scatological references, and broisms: the effect is at first slightly amusing—the dragon-invoking copulation plotted by Theroux is deemed "the fuckening"—but after an hour and forty-five minutes is numbing and predictable. The film's preoccupation with the dreaded specter of man-on-man action (the word "gay" was once used in a different context than it is now! Get it?!) proves more toxic but just as self-defeating in its banal pandering. "Acceptable" homophobia may finally be arriving at a cultural saturation point: at the press screening I attended, a slightly uncomfortable mood fell over the audience during a scene involving a perverted, pedophiliac wizard-creature. Other jokes based on the threat of sodomy similarly sour the irreverence.
As for the work of Green, Your Highness is as well-lensed as his early indie films, and unlike the clunky Pineapple Express is directed with no-nonsense efficiency and rhythm. It's odd to witness this one-time arthouse filmmaker employ CGI, though the simplest of rubbery props makes for the film's best coarse sight gag: when Thadeous slays a minotaur he dons around his neck as a trophy not the beast's horns but its large, gray member. But such moments are few and far between in Your Highness. That the film doesn't reach the absurdist heights of Monty Python and the Holy Grail—or even Army of Darkness—goes without saying.
Opens April 8