A couple years back I endured "Year One," a debacle of humor that still holds the title for the 21st century's most excruciating comedy. That movie suffered from the one joke premise of Jack Black and Michael Cera playing themselves in a biblical setting. "Your Highness" is a similar film that falls flat due to its repetitive premise of Danny McBride uttering contemporary slang in medieval times. As bad as "Your Highness" is, it is vastly superior to "Year One." Then again, so is taking a bath with a toaster.
David Gordon Green, who has made one great film after another," directed "Your Highness." The cast, which includes James Franco, Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel, all have great range as dramatic and comedic performers. On top of all that, the film's co-writer and star is Danny McBride, who has been very funny in the past. All of this talent on display suggests that "Your Highness" should be nothing short of a comedy classic. Yet, the film only produces a few mildly amusing moments every 10 minutes.
McBride plays Thadeous, an overweight, bumbling prince who is considered the black sheep of his family. Thadeous wishes he could be more like Fabious, his heroic older brother played by James Franco. The evil wizard Leezar, played by Justin Theroux, kidnaps Fabious' fiancée, a dim damsel played by Zooey Deschanel. Fabious sets out on a daring quest to rescue his bride. Thadeous accompanies his brother to get some real world experience.
At times McBride and Franco speak with crude English accents and other times they transition back into their American accents. I get that this is intended to be funny. But after awhile, their fake English accents just become a distraction. Intestinally bad accents can get by in some comedies. Take the German playwright in Mel Brooks' "The Producers," for example. Unfortunately, McBride and Franco are cursed with the burden of having nothing funny to say in their bad accents.
Much of the film's humor is reliant on three and four letter words. Don't get me wrong. I love profanity as much as the next guy. But "Your Highness" seems to think that simply incorporating the f-bomb into a line will automatically make it funny. Occasionally "Your Highness" does produce a memorable one-liner. Most of the time, though, it feels like listening to a bunch of 12 year olds that think they're cool just because they can say dirty phrases.
As much as I love every actor involved with "Your Highness," virtually all of them misfire. The only standout is Natalie Portman as Isabel, an adventurer who accompanies Thadeous and Fabious on their quest. Portman never cracks a smile and acts as if she just walked off the set of a "Lord of the Rings" movie. Her character isn't aware that she is in a comedy, which makes her performance work. Everyone else, however, merely plays variations of themselves and fails to create characters.
"Your Highness" is certainly a well-crafted movie in terms of visual effects and art direction. But for a movie that looks so great, the script is so lazy. The reimagining of "Land of the Lost," which coincidentally also starred McBride, shared the same problem. Director David Gordon Green has proven that he can successfully blend action with comedy, as in the underappreciated "Pineapple Express." Here he's in over his head with the action sequences and effects, which are loud and manic where they should be fun and whimsical.
The real blame for "Your Highness" falls in the lap of its star, writer and producer, McBride. I've liked McBride in movies such as "Tropic Thunder" and "Up in the Air." But based on "Your Highness," I'm not sure if he has what it takes to be a leading man. I'd love for McBride to prove me wrong with his next film outing, which will hopefully be more clever and character-driven. If this is the best McBride can do though, he'll simply be remembered as the poor man's Seth Rogan.