Starring Danny McBride, Natalie Portman and James Franco
Beating a dead horse. It’s a metaphor we’ve all used—as is the phrase “one-trick pony.” The first phrase references something that keeps getting brought to our attention again and again, past the point of reason. The second refers to someone who can do one thing—and only one thing—well. These phrases circled my mind as I watched Danny McBride in the new comedy “Your Highness.” I had witnessed the birth of something new: I watched a one trick pony get beaten to death.
I like Danny McBride. I find a lot of what he does hysterical, most notably the HBO series “Eastbound and Down.” The show is funny, and the character of Kenny Powers is a foul-mouthed, catchphrase-spewing machine. And now the success of the show, and McBride has catapulted him into a variety of roles and film projects. “Your Highness” is his first major film—and it’s just awful.
Whether or not the audience likes “Your Highness” will be based on the answer to this question: Do they want to watch Kenny Powers in a dungeons-and-dragons-style fantasy epic? Let me try to answer this question for them: They don’t. “Your Highness” is less of a movie, and more of an excuse to put on funny costumes and skewer the genre by dropping the world’s most relentless asshole into the starring role. McBride is Prince Thadeous, the spoiled-rotten royal who peppers his language with all sorts of colorful colloquialisms. Thadeous’ older brother Prince Fabious (James Franco) is the hero of the kingdom—a sword-wielding, Cyclops-slaying warrior who is beloved by his people and will one day be king.
Thadeous spends his days drinking and engaging in all sorts of debauchery. He lives a life of privilege and indulges every impulse. His entire repertoire consists of acting like a horny doofus and using the word “shit” every four minutes. It’s funny for a couple of minutes. Then it starts to become a little grating. Before I knew it, I was fighting every urge to flee the theater. It’s that bad!
Every joke seems to be derived from a painfully simple concept; a sword-and-sorcery epic where everyone in the film talks like a 14-year-old sex-obsessed teenager. Like I said, the gag is funny for five minutes. The first time I heard a wizard shout “Magic … Mother Fucker!” I laughed. The 14th or 15th time traditional medieval dialogue was replaced with the word “shit,” “cock” and “dick,” it began to lose its luster. By the 30th or 40th time, I was pushed to an angry place, left wondering who the hell thought this was a good idea.
Director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) makes a big, loud, special-effects laden spectacle. He creates this vast and expansive world as if he’s helming a “Lord of the Rings” film, and puts more emphasis on the action and effects than the characters. McBride sticks to his shtick as if his life depends on it. He has perfected the art of buffoonery, but it’s a wearing routine best left to small doses.
James Franco tries his best to be the swashbuckling straight man to McBride’s perpetually horny doofus. Franco’s a likable guy, and I give him credit for making a real effort, but he can’t hold this disintegrating mess together. Neither can Natalie Portman. In fact, the entire experiment seems to suffer for their involvement. The flimsy premise crumbles underneath the weight of quality talent too good to be in such shite.
I’m usually more forgiving of stupidity. There are a number of idiotic, base and utterly senseless films that I count among my favorite. No one could watch something wonderfully ridiculous like “Caddyshack” or “Anchorman” and pronounce them as “high art.” Yet, it seems that something silly can, in the right hands, be symphonic. In the wrong hands, it can be something akin to a pipe-cleaner scraping out our eyes and ears.
I fought every urge not to walk out of the theater. I shifted in my seat. I endlessly looked at my watch. I prayed for a merciful end. “Your Highness” is a blight. In small doses, Danny McBride is hilarious. In long, feature-length doses, he’s toxic.
I place as much blame on the director. Green’s work feels creatively rudderless after making so many wonderfully crafted independent films. The careers of talented directors like Christopher Nolan started from making small movies and transitioning into bigger budgets; some even flourished.The line between ‘Memento” and “Inception’ is clear and makes sense. Darren Aronofsky is another example, who went from “Pi” to “Black Swan”—very different films, but you can see progression and the growth.
I don’t know what David Gordon Green wants to do or what stories he wants to tell, but there’s no growth here. In fact, I’d call it decay. The further away he gets from his earlier films, the worse he gets. “Your Highness” is just wretched. I almost envy those who haven’t seen it. They’re far better for it.