Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: "Your Highness"

The sword-and-sorcery genre isn't exactly going gangbusters. After a brief heyday of schlocky movies in the early 1980s and a high point with the "Lord of the Ring" trilogy, things have been pretty sketchy for fantasy films. But that hasn't stopped the "Pineapple Express" crew from unnecessarily spoofing them.

Like "Pineapple," a modern ode to toking weed from 2008, "Your Highness" isn't nearly as funny as it seems to think it is. Danny McBride and James Franco play princely brothers on a quest to stop an evil warlock from bringing about end times, and they get a helping hand from Natalie Portman as a female warrior who kicks butt, and then shows hers.

The running joke is that it's a Dungeons & Dragons kind of world, but everyone acts and speaks like modern hipster doofuses. Thus McBride is a portly lay-about who'd rather smoke "glorious herbs" than go questing, and tosses the f-word about a lot more liberally than we're used to hearing in sword-and-sandals flicks.

McBride, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ben Best, also ladles on a generous helping of raunch -- including a wicked woodland king with a coterie of nude female retainers, and a minotaur who's a lot more, um, amorous than the mythical beast of yore. (How they got the latter past the censors, even with computer-generated imagery, boggles the mind.)

Thadeous (McBride) is the envious brother of Fabious (Franco), heir to the throne and veteran of many adventures. Having just returned from his latest one, Fabious reveals the maiden he rescued, Belladonna. She's played by Zooey Deschanel, in a role that asks her only to sing a short song and act loopy, and wastes her considerable talents.

Leezar (Justin Theroux), the aforementioned evil wizard, kidnaps Belladonna so he can pluck her virginity at the exact moment of a twin lunar eclipse, thus giving rise to a dragon only he can control, or something.
Fabious insists that his younger brother accompany him on this most perilous quest, which Thadeous does only reluctantly, bringing along his nebbishy manservant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) to get in the way of any arrows or blades coming his way.

During their journeys they encounter Isabel (Portman), perhaps the greatest fighter in the land, who saves their bacon and then rebuffs the piggish advances of Thadeous. After much consternation and fisticuffs, they eventually band together to defeat Leezar.

The action scenes are staged clumsily and without any flair, although some of the special effects scenes are cool to look at.

I will admit to responding to four or five good jokes in "Your Highness," mostly one-offs and throwaway lines that tickle the funny bone fleetingly, and then are gone. When director David Gordon Green, his cast and crew are trying to build a sustained comedic mood, though, the film goes flat.

What a buzzkill.

1.5 stars out of four

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