Danny McBride’s rise from a bit player in edgy and button-pushing comedies to the star of his own HBO comedy series, “Eastbound & Down”, is a pretty meteoric climb. From all accounts, people seem to like him and he has built a rather rabid and loyal fanbase. His “Eastbound” series, while not for everyone, has a cult-like following amongst its supporters, and his distinct look and comedic abilities are a bit of a refreshing change-of-pace.
But come on. Even his most fervent supporters will have to recoil a bit after seeing “Your Highness”, a painfully desperate and only slightly amusing endeavor that McBride trudges through with arrogance and such pretentiousness that it has now made me question whether I find the man as talented as I once thought I did.
As Thadeous, McBride plays the selfish and lazy prince who stumbles through his days and nights with little direction and drive. Thadeous spends much of his time with his manservant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker), a pixie-bobbed do anything who never leaves Thadeous’ side and tries to keep him in good graces with his stern and serious father, King Tallious (Charles Dance). Whenever and wherever Thadeous can find it, he tries his hand at all the prostitutes, drugs, and drink he can find and is basically viewed as a failure by his father.
Fueling Thadeous’ discontent is the lavish and heroic status of his brother, Fabious (James Franco). Fabious is the brother everyone loves – he goes on valiant and dangerous quests and comes back richer and more beloved than when he left. Following his most recent quest, Fabious has returned with the beautiful and virginal Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) and has vowed to marry her…the next day. At the hastily assembled pre-wedding ball, an evil wizard, Leezar (Justin Theroux), kidnaps the bride-to-be and threatens the ruin of King Tallious’ kingdom. The King issues a proclamation to Fabious to save Belladonna and then, an ultimatum to both Fabious and Thadeous – to save his kingdom. Thadeous naturally whines and complains but then begrudgingly goes along on the quest when threatened with a lifetime shunning from the family and the kingdom.
So as unfunny as the film is from the outset, it becomes boring and painful to sit through from here on out. The journey consists of tiresome vulgarity, which rapidly loses its appeal, and terribly edited sequences which end at odd times and lines which land with a thud. There seems to be no purpose for any of it other than perhaps trying to bust people up on the set. McBride mugs for the camera and says outrageous things while Franco plays the straight man – forced to spout fantasy dialogue which may have been funny on the page, or worked well in a smoky and hydroponically fueled writer’s room. On screen and playing to a full theater however, you hear muted chuckles and little else. At times, “Your Highness” feels like a comic at an open mic night, trying to stave off the boobirds and hecklers and desperately trying to kill with something in his repertoire.
Maybe this joke will get them? Oh wait, I’ve got this one. Oh, they’ll love it. Hmmm…wait…I’ll hit them with this!
By the time Natalie Portman arrives as Isabel, a warrior princess who defeats a loathsome five-headed snake-like thing, the movie is impotent and spent. Yes, I am using a sexual colloquialism here because McBride and Best might have per minute, the most sexual jokes and references I have ever seen. I am no prude and when used with some intelligence, the F-word and vulgarity seldom, if ever, bother me. But here, and especially by the time Thadeous dons a particular appendage of a slayed minotaur as a trophy, the film had long overstayed its welcome that few, if any, people laughed at the most obvious and final sight gag of the film.
McBride and his writing partner Ben Best have crafted a nonsensical, almost sketch-styled medieval spoof that aims directly for the college-aged stoner kid. So, naturally, when someone has imbibed on their substance of choice and are still coherent, the humor probably packs more appeal. And this is where “Your Highness” lives – that post-blunt haze of confusion and momentary elation that leaves you hungry for another spark. For the rest of us though there’s no spark to begin with, no hunger to experience anything more, and nothing to remember or champion as remotely enjoyable.