Of all the things to lampoon, to make modern (or is it post-modern?) and irreverent for today’s audiences, it’s strange that David Gordon Green and his writers Danny McBride and Ben Best chose the cheesy sword-and-sorcery genre, which saw a short burst of popularity in the 1980s before fading into paperback fantasy novel obscurity. Who remembers these movies, let alone wants to see a winking send-up of them? Well, as it turns out, none of this really matters. ‘Your Highness’, which co-stars McBride and failed Oscar host James Franco, is wonderfully spirited, WTF-worthy fun.
The movie has the barest of bare plots. A pair of hapless heroes, one valiant (Franco) and one more or less retarded (McBride), set about to fell a dastardly wizard (Justin Thereoux) and save a fair maiden (Zooey Deschanel). Along the way, they team up with a beautiful warrior (Natalie Portman) and battle a series of ferocious mythical beasts (including a multi-headed hydra and a pedophilic shaman with the iridescent head of a deep sea jellyfish – don’t ask).
While the movie has been marketed as a kind of goofy, “Isn’t this so funny?” stoner comedy in the tradition of ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ (or something), it’s closer in both tone and execution to the films that Edgar Wright made with Simon Pegg. That is to say, it’s not exactly a spoof because a spoof would mean that they’re making fun of, or trying to belittle, the genre they’re appropriating. Instead, ‘Your Highness’ is a knowing, loving send-up of those movies, and much “straighter” than you would imagine, at least from the marketing campaign.
Much of the movie’s success can be rested at the feet of director David Gordon Green, who has made an interesting transition from low budget indie filmmaking with shades of Malickian impressionism, to a herald of bawdy, big-budget comedy. (He previously helmed ‘Pineapple Express‘ for Judd Apatow and has another studio comedy, ‘The Sitter’, opening at Christmas.) For all of the movie’s fantastical nonsense, Green manages to ground the film in a tangible, if outlandish, reality. Part of this has to do with his reliance on practical effects and actual puppets and creatures (produced by the same company that fashioned the outer space beasts in ‘Attack the Block’). More so, you get the feeling that he really rallied everyone – both cast and crew – to share the same vision for the film… even if that vision involves a running gag about a minotaur’s severed penis.
Had one half of ‘Your Highness’ gone kerplunk – either the bawdy comedy or the fantasy-adventure stuff – the entire enterprise would have faltered. There’s a fine tonal balance that Green and his collaborators walk that is upheld throughout the course of the movie. Despite its episodic nature, it moves along briskly and without much lag. As Danny McBride, who has crafted an art form out of cursing, would say, ‘Your Highness’ is fucking awesome.