Is there a genre struggling as much as comedy? It’s hard to name a film genuinely funny since Borat came out in 2006 bar Juno or The Hangover, but neither of these quite hit the same dizzy heights of standard. The problem is the lazy approach to the genre, and Your Highness is as guilty as any. Puerility and sex jokes alone do not a great movie make, and Your Highness is anywhere but great. Set in the Middle Ages in England, and boasting a star cast of Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, James Franco and Danny McBride, the film is a ‘comedy-action’, bolstered by a selection of English thespians like Charles Dance and Toby Jones who are clearly revelling in being able to cut loose. They’re probably also revelling in the fact that they’re not a chump paying for the end product.
Danny McBride (who’s firmly establishing himself as a name that people simply won’t watch films on the basis of his presence) plays Thadeous, a prince who lives in the shadow of his much more noble and revered brother Fabious (Franco). Fabious returns from a quest with a new bride-to-be Belladona (Deschanel) who is quickly kidnapped by Justin Theroux’s sorcerer Leezar. And so they set off on a predictable quest in order to rescue her, in which they must overcome totally out of place beasts and unfunny setups, all the while dodging the sneaky warrior Isabel (Natalie Portman, picking up an easy pay check) and their humble servants, who have turned to the dark side. It’s obvious what is going to happen from the off, and there is no effort in which this is avoided.
This shouldn’t be a problem. In comedies, the action is often incidental as long as there’s some good lines right? Well there isn’t, and its hard to fathom how a film in which the running joke ALL THE WAY THROUGH is that Thadeous swears and smokes a bit gets a $50 million budget. Seen the trailer? Then you’ve seen the best of Your Highness (make of that what you will) and the rest of the film acts as filler in order to reach these moments. Some jokes verge on utterly brainless (Thadeous’ servant being raped by a Minotaur in a labyrinth eerily mirrors the assault of the audience’s sense of humour by the pure smugness of the entire film) to mind-boggling, the visit to a ‘wise-old wizard’ being a particular low point.
The film’s being perfectly released as to coincide with the post-Oscar season, as respective nominee and winner James Franco and Natalie Portman feature heavily, and they aren’t too bad. Franco in particular seems to be having a ball, whereas Deschanel is a particularly alluring screen presence even if she has relatively little to do. But as mentioned before, people just won’t rush out to see a Danny McBride film, and the fact that his last star-billed role before this was Land of the Lost, which seems like Annie Hall in comparison speaks volumes. The battle scenes are surprisingly gory, yet again totally tedious and the whole experience is instantly forgettable.
Your Highness is a particularly anger-inducing picture, as it’s obvious there’s potential there. The fact remains however, that there’s no subtlety, no intelligence and quite frankly, the more esteemed or high profile cast members have committed a major faux-pas by being associated with such a picture. The current climate dictates pictures such as Due Date, Vampires Suck, Couples Retreat and Dinner For Schmucks are among the higher-profile comedy releases, and it’s worrying. Many members of the general public are coming out speaking about the film, saying that its highlight is a half-naked Natalie Portman, and when in a comedy film, the leads’ appearances are discussed more than its actual content, then volumes are spoken right there.