What a perfect week for “Your Highness” to arrive on home video and remind us what a failure it was. James Franco stars in this past weekend’s box office champ (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), which grossed nearly six times as much, while Danny McBride has a new movie out Friday (“30 Minutes or Less”) that’s getting pretty decent first marks. Meanwhile, indie debut “Bellflower” is a greater heir to a throne once sat in by David Gordon Green. Evan Glodell’s gorgeously shot romance-turned-thriller is like “All the Real Girls” with bigger balls and a much darker outlook. Cynically speaking, Glodell may one day be directing period-set pot comedies, too. For now, though, it’s Green’s turn to be asked, “what were you thinking?”
“Your Highness” had me thinking about the similar disappointment of “Year One” back in 2009. Should Hollywood just give up on trying to make comedies set in olden times? It’s not impossible to be hilarious in period setting, as Monty Python covered both these films’ territory with “Holy Grail” and “Life of Brian,” respectively. And it’s not so much that humor today is more immature, gross or lewd, because the Monty Python guys were certainly into shit and sex jokes. But they were silly, not stupid. To be fair, I laughed plenty more during “Your Highness” than most comedies this year. I just don’t see much reason for its fantastical medieval setting other than someone really loved that punny title. Plus, writers McBride and Ben Best are surely amused by our having to see an erect minotaur penis, even if we aren’t laughing with them.
I understand that the primary point of a comedy is to make us laugh. What should come first, though, the situation for this comedy or the specific jokes? It’s likely that the Monty Python gang first thought up a simple idea to do a medieval film and then filled that concept with humorous bits before figuring out a full story and characterization. So why do I want to fault these guys for seemingly doing the same, basing an uninteresting plot around a few gags rather than developing a worthwhile fantasy narrative and then filling it with humor? Have any other movies besides “The Princess Bride” really accomplished that anyway? Maybe “Labyrinth” and “Big Trouble in Little China”?
Many of the gags in “Your Highness” come off as rehashes of older, better fantasy films only with ramped up vulgarity, if for any reason at all. Having an evil wizard (Justin Theroux) killing a fairy and then snorting it as a drug is far less inspired than the simple pesticide gag in “Labyrinth.” A scene with a wise old wizard creature exaggerates the creepiness of Yoda (with a little Morla from “The Neverending Story” thrown in) by making the character a pedophile. That’s less funny than sad. A mechanical bird recalls the owl Bubo from “Clash of the Titans,” but serves no real purpose. The basic saga involves a disgraced, self-centered and lecherous knight/prince (McBride) on a quest through which he will be redeemed as a great hero, not unlike Val Kilmer’s character in “Willow.” Yes, it’s hard to honor that movie as being better than much, but it at least had a classic tale (albeit one borrowing blatantly from “The Lord of the Rings”) with more substance and (then) groundbreaking special effects.
This is not a parody of fantasy films, though, or even a great homage in the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg style. The makers of “Your Highness” don’t appear to have any respect for the context of their comedy, and this makes the movie a forgettable, disposable waste of talent and special effects, regardless of how cheap those look anyway. Too much of it displays a lack of real effort, consistent with the awful, unstudied English accents — meant for humor, surely, but still quite grating after awhile. It disappoints on a level with Monty Python vet Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm,” yet that fantastic failure still shows signs of having had a foundation in the passionate fascination with the characters and ideas, ultimately ruined by sloppy effects and unfortunate creative compromises. “Your Highness” is sometimes saved by some witty improvised lines, but that lack of fundamental devotion to storytelling and genre has it devoid and undeserving of our enthusiasm right out of the gate.
“Your Highness” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Recommended If You Like: “Willow”; “Pineapple Express”; “The Brothers Grimm”