Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Movie Review: Your Highness

Your Highness *
Directed by: David Gordon Green.
Written by: Danny McBride & Ben Best.
Starring: Danny McBride (Thadeous), James Franco (Fabious), Natalie Portman (Isabel), Zooey Deschanel (Belladonna), Rasmus Hardiker (Courtney), Toby Jones (Julie), Justin Theroux (Leezar), Charles Dance (King Tallious), Damian Lewis (Boremont), Simon Farnaby (Manious the Bold), Deobia Oparei (Thundarian).

From 2000 to 2008, director David Gordon Green made four excellent films that almost no one saw. Starting with his haunting debut George Washington about kids growing up poor in the rural South, and moving onto his romance All the Real Girls, his Night of the Hunter inspired thriller Undertow and his tragic marriage drama Snow Angels, Green was establishing a signature style that drew comparisons to Terrence Malick, who produced some of his films. He was a director that I loved, even if no one else seemed to notice. But in 2008, I suppose, Green decided it was time to make some money, so he ventured into studio filmmaking. His first foray, the stoner-action-comedy Pineapple Express was an ingenious send-up of buddy action movie clichés, that gave James Franco one of his best roles, and really is a high water mark for recent, American, mainstream comedies. Now, he’s back at making a studio comedy – and the result is the almost painfully unfunny Your Highness. How the hell Green got to this point is anyone’s guess.

The movie stars and was co-written by Danny McBride, who was so good in his supporting role in Pineapple Express, as a drug dealer who is beaten, shot repeatedly, gets into a major car accident, and yet somehow keeps on coming back from the brink of death. McBride has been good in other supporting roles – in Tropic Thunder, Due Date, Up in the Air and Observe and Report for example. But every time I see him in a lead – as he was in the awful comedy The Foot Fist Way – I can’t help but think that a little McBride goes a long way.

Your Highness is a send-up of historical epics, with knights and sorcerers and Kings, damsels in distress, etc. It clearly takes the King Arthur legend as its jumping off point. The film tries to marry that type of story to a stoner comedy (the title for example can be taken two ways – har har). The movie really though is just a series of cock jokes – complete with a child molesting Muppet like creature (again I say har har sarcastically). A movie built on little more than cock jokes can work, I suppose, if those jokes are funny. When they’re not, and they are not in Your Highness, the result can be painful to watch.

Aside from McBride, who plays the slacker “hero” of the movie, the second son of a powerful King, jealous of his older brother, the movie makes some seemingly inspired casting choices. James Franco is his older brother, the Golden Boy, as it were who sets a standard that McBride cannot match. Natalie Portman is a woman they meet while on their “quest”. Zooey Deschannel, who is the only one in the movie who gives a decent performance, is the insanely naïve damsel in distress (she was kidnapped by an evil wizard as a child and kept in a tower her whole life, making her lacking in all social skills – she spends the movie with a hilariously blank look on her face). David Lynch regular Justin Theroux is that evil wizard. The supporting roles are played by independent mainstays like Toby Jones and Damien Lewis. This is a very good ensemble cast – that is completely wasted at the service of this awful screenplay.

I can see why Green directed this movie. He has a long history with McBride – going back to the later’s supporting role in All the Real Girls, and going through not just Pineapple Express, but also McBride’s well regarded TV show Eastbound and Down (which I have never seen), where Green is both a producer and sometimes director. But somewhere along the way someone had to step up and tell both Green and McBride that this screenplay was terrible, and should never be made. No one did. And sadly, it appears that Green is more than happy to keep churning out Hollywood comedies. His next film, due in August called The Sitter, stars Jonah Hill as a college student who gets talked into babysitting the kids next door – and gets more than he bargained for. Let’s hope it’s less Daddy Day Care than it sounds.

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