Last night, Vegas was treated to a preview screening of the upcoming movie, Your Highness. Its a new comedy Directed by David Gordon Green, most famous for Pineapple Express, and written by and starring Danny McBride of Eastbown and Down, which is also one of Green's productions.
Right off the bat, lemme tell ya, if you're going to go see this movie, you better be comfortable with dicks. Every couple seconds, you'll be hearing about, thinking about, and maybe even seeing a bit of cock. If you're okay with that, then proceed.
Your Highness is a medieval comedy with a few stoner twists tacked on (appropriate, given the creators' past works). The adventure mainly belongs to Thadeous (McBride), though the quest would not even be were it not for his brother Fabious (James Franco, 127 Hours, Spider-Man). Fabious has returned from his latest quest, once again successful and heroic, this time with a betrothed Bride, the lovely and simple (possible Asperger's Syndrome?) Belladonna (Zooey Dechenel). There is a great celebration for Flabious's wedding, and its during this that the sibling rivalry that drives the movie kicks in.
Thadeous lives in his brother's shadow, getting stoned and messing up even the simplest of tasks, usually in his bid at bedding whatever easy ladies may cross his path. He feels he can never live up to his brother's might and valor, and skips the wedding, opting to go toke-up with the Shepards outside of town. Its during this night of cavorting and sheep-chasing that the castle is attacked by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux, Parks and Recreation), who steals Belladonna, hoping to impregnate her with his wizard's seed so that he might have her birth a dragon in accordance with an ancient prophecy.
Okay, so, that's the detailed explanation. Really it all boils down to: bad guy has the girl, and is doing bad stuff. Brothers have to stop bad guy by putting their differences aside. Yes, Thadeus is ordered to help his brother save his bride or be exiled, much to his disdain. Fabious regards the thing as a grand adventure, two brothers on a quest, and acts giddy with child-like glee through the whole escapade.
Oh, and along the way they run into Isabel (Natalie Portman, Black Swan). We'll come back to her in a second.
So, the best way to describe this thing, and I'm usually loathe to use this technique, is to compare it to two other well known movies. Its Robin Hood: Men in Tights meets Tropic Thunder. Seriously. It has the goofiness and irreverence of Robin Hood, but it is dirtier and raunchier and feels like Tropic Thunder, no doubt thanks to McBride's writing. I don't know that I'll say its as successful as Tropic Thunder, as its not as nicely layered with biting satire, or as relatable, but it does work in a lot of ways.
So, overall I liked it, and I think the test audience did too. There were lots of laughs the whole time through, and some surprising one-liners that you could hear a few audience members repeat out loud, as if doing so just made the moment that much more satisfying. There are also some action scenes and creative magic attacks that are honestly pretty impressive, but the audience isn't so into the story as to really care all that much. We want the jokes, dammit!
What makes the film work all around is the cast. McBride is pretty funny as Thadeus, though his character isn't anything new. He's your typical selfish slob that has to find his own self-worth and turn it around and yadda yadda yadda. This could have been played by Jack Black or Seth Rogan and it would have been pretty much the same. A necessary character to have, in order to have a development arc, but the character is very plug and play. Fabious is what makes the brother dynamic work. James Franco is my homeboy. Since Spider-Man 2 (not so much the first one), this guy's been impressing the crap out of me in dramatic and comedic roles. He just seems to put 110% into every role he plays. Also, he's on my top list of dudes in Hollywood I'd want to party with. He brings a bit of serious action, melodramatic intensity, and a ridiculous child-like wonder to the role. He really seems to love his brother, and enjoy every second of the adventure, and he passes that along to the audience.
Of course, its just as the brother dynamic starts to get a little too serious, wear a little thin, that we're introduced to Natalie Portman as Isabelle. Though she gets first billing, Portman is only in about half the movie, so you can tell how much value her star has these days. Her character is played completely straight, which is what makes her so ridiculously funny. She's in so many stupid situations, but her straight-man attitude is so over-important that you can't help but laugh at her. She's like a 90's comic character, all blood and guts and misery, with a hatred for her enemies that "has been burning in her beaver for years." Natalie keeps the movie fresh and sexy, and the audience seemed to really like seeing the Best Actress contender flex her comedic muscles.
Beyond the cast and their great delivery, there are a few choice scenes that all audiences who aren't easily offended should enjoy. Highlights include a visit to a perverted old wizard (Voiced by John Kassir, famous for The Crypt Keeper's voice), a battle against a giant snake backed by an army of topless women, a hilarious dash of anachronism (just about every curse or cheer sees the characters drop their fakey Brit accents and use modern expressions), and most memorably a well-endowed minotaur. Yes, he's hung like a bull.
Toss in a few bizarre bickerings between the (honestly underused) Belladonna and the wizard, and you've got the workings of a good genre comedy. Nothing like seeing the wedding ceremony banquet and then creeping over to the tower of the bachelor wizard to see him making a feast of fish sticks, mashed potatoes, and peas.
On a more personal note, this movie works very well for the nerd-niche. Your Highness plays very similar to the silliest nights playing Dungeons and Dragons. You know those evenings, where your DM has crafted this epic, in-all-seriousness adventure full of twists and turns and drama. Your characters get in place, you think you can stop the evil-wizard's plans for the young virgin and then... you roll a critical miss. And your character yells, "Fuck. Balls! This fuckin' quest sucks." Likewise, you get the character who has to get drunk at every turn, and the character that is so stupidly serious and badass that everyone else snickers at them behind their back. Everything becomes a sexual innuendo. Before you know it, the drama is gone, and the game has become guys tossing dice around and making sex jokes. Thats Your Highness. Its my Saturday nights in High School compressed into two hours.
Alright, so, from that you should be able to tell if this is your kind of movie or not. Its sick and twisted, its really just ridiculously goofy, and full of 'what the fuck?' kind of moments all the way through. Good for a shocker kind of laugh. Here's a couple things to watch out for.
First off, the stoner humor doesn't really work. Its kind of tossed in because of the connection to Pineapple Express, and it does kind of fit the character of Thadeous, but its honestly the weakest selection of jokes in the film. There are probably a lot of weed jokes on the cutting room floor, and the ones that are left in the movie just seem to stick out like a sore thumb, and never go anywhere. The ones in the wizard's chamber do pretty well, but the rest just kind of hang around awkwardly. There need to be either more of these to play off each other, or none at all.
Of course, that's kind of the whole issue that makes the movie feel a little jumbled and weird is the editing. Its terrible. People just looking for a night out and a few laughs won't notice, really, but the cinema-philes will hate the bad cuts and the lack of continuity. This is becoming more typical in the post-Apatow era of comedy movies. Film the thing, ad-lib and whole bunch of different lines, and cut and paste a movie together from the favorite takes. Sometimes the lines dont' fit in certain scenes though, and sometimes scenes get excised as all the constant ad-libbing changes the flow of the movie. Its noticeable. You get things like lines in the trailer that aren't in the movie, some jokes that seem to get cut-off half developed, and other ones that maybe go on a bit too long. Continuity errors result, the most notorious one being a spear that magically appears next to a previously captured and unarmed Isabelle, just before she uses it to kill a major bad guy. There was probably supposed to be a sequence in there where she got the spear, but it was likely cut around in favor of other jokes, or the joke in that scene got ad-libbed in somewhere else. I get the feeling there are a lot of these that will pop up upon multiple viewings.
See that picture up there in the above paragraph? That scene is in the movie, but that shot isn't; just more ad-libs than an editor knows what to do with.
Overall, its not bad. I had a good time, and I think most of the rest of the audience did too. A strange crowd pleaser in the vein of Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Superbad, Walk Hard, etc. The sword and sorcery bit may be a little too exotic for some, but if you can get into the fantasy elements and laugh at the old cliches, then you'll really dig this sloppy, goofy mess of a movie for what it is.
Hey, bonus, there's a big cock hastily edited out of the below scene from the end of the movie. Can you spot it? I guarantee if you go to see this movie, you will...