McBride goes medieval in Your Highness
Making a sword and sorcery comedy with Oscar-caliber actors can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you know you’ve got the best, most talented, and highly acclaimed cast available, but occasionally, they can make silly lines sound a little too professional. David Gordon Green’s Your Highness benefits and suffers from talent.
In this Pineapple Express meets Princess Bride mashup, Danny McBride is Thadeous, a lazy and cowardly prince who lounges around and gets wasted all day. He’s insanely jealous of his dashing and heroic brother Fabious (James Franco) who is unanimously praised by everyone in the kingdom. Fabious’ perfect life is shattered when an evil wizard named Leezar (Justin Theroux) kidnaps his bride-to-be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) and re-imprisons her in the very tower that Fabious had just rescued her from. The noble prince embarks on a quest to save his lady love. The king see this as a good way to force his lazier son to straighten up and orders Thadeous and his servant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) to go along.
Along the way, they encounter a fierce and extremely beautiful female warrior named Isabel (Natalie Portman) who is also on a quest to kill Leezar. They fight witches, wizards and a well-hung minotaur along the way to the grand finale at Leezar’s lair.
As much as I love McBride, I’m just not sure that he can stand up as a leading man in the same film as Franco. He’s brilliant in Eastbound & Down because his character, Kenny Powers, is the sole focus of the series. Here, the film is lead by a trio of heroes. The only problem is that two of those three are world-renown superstars, which makes it hard to keep focused on our main character, Thadeous. I’ve spent many movies wishing for more McBride, but I’m a little disappointed that Your Highness is his first mainstream foray into leading man territory. I know he could be so much better in something less silly.
Franco and Portman dominate their scenes, both because of their exquisite looks and because they can turn Robin Hood: Men in Tights dialogue into Lord of the Rings–even if they’re not trying to. Both are best as the straight man to McBride (it is his movie after all) but their funny lines can occasionally shift the comedic focus away from our star.
The film feels wholly ad libbed. Improvisation is great when there’s still a central focus and direction for the story. Actors can throw in a funny line or two, but you can’t Curb You Enthusiasm your way through a feature film. I’m sure it was a joy to work on the film, but this free style means that Your Highness feels a bit too loose.
In no way would I categorize Your Highness as a bad film. There are tons of laughs and the cast obviously has a natural chemistry. It just seems like the bar was set too high for this film. All the elements are there, but the whole doesn’t equal the sum of the parts. I’m sure I’ll get some added appreciation for it when I see the special features on the inevitable unrated DVD.