The director David Gordon Green started in tastefully muted art-house fodder. Then he made Pineapple Express. With his latest film, Your Highness, now he seems to be imitating the sort of Mel Brooks movies that make you wonder what happened to Mel Brooks.
In the old-world stoner comedy Your Highness, Danny McBride (right) plays the more lazy of two royal brothers on a quest to rescue a damsel in distress. Natalie Portman (left) plays a warrior on an unrelated quest who intersects with the ineffectual duo.
Your Highness is a medieval stoner comedy. It stars Danny McBride and James Franco as two princes on a quest to rescue the latter’s fiancée, played by Zooey Deschanel, from a wizard, played by Justin Theroux, who intends to defile her. (Because merely distressing a damsel is too passé these days.) A nimble lone warrior played by Natalie Portman joins the princes’ quest, in a way that I didn’t really understand.
People sometimes wonder if movie critics take notes on the movies they see. Most do. In the case of Your Highness, these were mine: “With Portman, conflict becomes cooperation sort of randomly,” and then “minotaur penis.” I’m tempted to leave it there. I wonder if maybe those two lines alone convey the full essence of Your Highness.
It’s telling, unfortunately, that Your Highness has a whole schtick about a minotaur’s groin and I thought I’d better write it down in case I forgot. I mean, why even make a joke about the genitals of a magical beast if you can’t make it memorable? If I’m beating a dead horse about this joke, it’s to make a point: The rules of comedy say that three times is funny, and four is tedious. And when you’re talking about something dirty, five can’t possibly make it better.
But there you have the spirit of Your Highness. Puerile vulgarity can be fun, but less so when it seems somehow both lazy and pushy. Now seems like the right moment to point out that several young men snickered, and one young woman shouted “ewww!” during the screening I attended.
Your Highness does, however, have a remarkable attention span; every character introduced is there for a reason. That kind of focus is rare these days, even in less moronic comedies. McBride, an executive producer, also co-wrote the script (with his frequent collaborator Ben Best), and even found some business for Steven, his lizard. The problem, possibly related, is that he didn’t find enough for himself. Which is too bad, because he’s funnier than this.
The team behind Your Highness could’ve taken a cue from Year One, 2009’s cruddy flop of an anachronistic buddy comedy. Both seek to evoke that special age when a young man knows that “Dungeons & Dragons” alone is no longer stimulating enough, and starts searching out weed and sex humor, often in theaters. What would be in a teenage critic’s notebook?