- - Thursday, April 7, 2011

Let no one say that “Your Highness” doesn’t make its intentions perfectly clear. The movie, a pot-fueled riff on cinematic high fantasy, follows the wandering adventures of two princes, the irresponsible Thadeous (Danny McBride) and his more noble older brother, Fabious (James Franco). Shortly after Thadeous sets out on his first sword-swinging quest, he delivers a sort of mission statement: “I do hope this adventure is not too stressful or boring. Either way, I intend to get properly [wasted], if no one disagrees.”

Mr. McBride both co-wrote and helped produce the film, and the line he delivers works mostly as a statement of the filmmaker’s priorities: Don’t work too hard, but be sure to amuse yourself along the way.

As a crude comedic take on the fantasy-adventure genre, “Your Highness” strikes an awkward balance, if only because the movie offers so little in the way of comedy, heroism or adventure.

It’s hard to describe most of the movie’s jokes, in part because the majority involve some unprintable combination of four-letter words and bodily functions. But it’s also difficult because the movie’s attempts at humor are so lazy. Rather than actively satirize the fantasy genre’s conventions, it simply rehearses them, adding in a smattering of pot-fueled profanity for good measure.

Indeed, director David Gordon Green often seems to be under the impression that he’s in charge of something resembling a serious action film: The special effects and action sequences are unusually well-executed for a comedy — especially one of such low ambition.

Yet Mr. Green’s too-competent movie magic is part of the problem. The various effects sequences are also mostly gag-free, making them poorly suited to the movie’s vulgar comic atmosphere. It’s as if Mr. Green and his co-conspirators occasionally forgot they were making a comedy.

The supporting cast, at least, appears to remember. It includes Natalie Portman as Isabel, a bow-toting fellow adventurer; Zooey Deschanel as Belladonna, a fair maiden in distress; and Justin Theroux as the villainous mage Leezar. All of them work hard to elevate the underwhelming material; Miss Portman, in particular, extracts the most from the movie’s fuzz-brained stupidity through her commitment to her character’s unyielding heroism and high purpose.

It’s a shame as much can’t be said for the lackadaisical filmmakers. There are moments of genuinely inspired absurdity, such as when Leezar inexplicably serves up a feast consisting of giant plates of frozen fish sticks. But like too much of the movie, the joke ultimately goes nowhere.

Like many pot comedies, “Your Highness” is an acquired taste. At its best, it serves up wink-wink allusions for geek cultists in the know. Mr. Green, Mr. McBride and co-writer Ben Best work in a slew of references to the pantheon of cult-favorite fantasy and adventure movies past: Most members of the audience will catch allusions to “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” Fewer, however, will notice references to obscurities such as “The Beastmaster,” “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and “Krull.”

Most of the audience won’t get the genre references — which isn’t surprising given the haze of dopey self-amusement permeating the production. But it would have been nice if the filmmakers had set out to entertain anyone other than themselves.


TITLE: “Your Highness”

CREDITS: Directed by David Gordon Green; screenplay by Danny McBride and Ben Best

RATED: R for vulgarity, nudity, drug use

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


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