Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Not Mad, Just Disappointed: YOUR HIGHNESS

Despite the ample warnings provided by the deluge of negative reviews, Your Highness filled me with a deep, awful disappointment. It is a film of so many painful, unanswerable questions, but chief among them is simply “Why?” Why does this movie exist? Why did David Gordon Green, one of the most promising talents in Hollywood today, waste his time with this nonsense? I suppose he thought it would be funny, and maybe it is for some. I wasn’t laughing.

Green’s heart wrenching indie character piece George Washington is one of the greatest debut features in recent memory. He followed that up with a heartfelt romance, All the Real Girls; a gripping slice of Southern Gothic, Undertow; a deeply felt ache of a small-town portrait, Snow Angels; and a goofy stoner action comedy, Pineapple Express. I love all of those films to varying degrees, even Pineapple Express, which was a slight drop in quality from his string of masterpieces but has grown on me as time passes.

With Your Highness, Green creates a bumbling fantasy comedy about a chivalrous prince (James Franco) and his doofus brother (Danny McBride). They set out with a faithful servant (Rasmus Hardiker) on a quest to save a princess (Zooey Deschanel) from an evil wizard (Justin Theroux). Along the way they encounter Natalie Portman as a very earnest warrior who exists to look pretty, provide reaction shots, and move the plot along by simply being the most competent person in the room. The worst part of all this is that that’s a hugely promising set-up for a rollicking R-rated comedy. Even as I sit here typing this, knowing full well how much I don’t like the movie, I find myself intrigued. Add to that concept a collection of truly talented people and it starts to seem impossible that it could be that bad. I only have to remind myself how painfully low the supply of laughs actually is and I’m brought back down to the reality of just how bad the movie is.

I can think of no clearer way to review comedy than for a critic to honestly report the number of times he or she laughed. Your Highness made me laugh exactly zero times. (I did, however, smile once). Green follows unchecked impulses (and a script from McBride and co-writer Ben Best) into an unceasingly violent, vulgar, and sloppy comedy that seems to pound away at ideas for jokes instead of committing to the actual jokes themselves.

When the camera pulls back and swoops across the untamed wilderness the characters traipse through, there’s a feeling of a building fantasy epic that could be nicely undercut by the character’s deeply flawed personalities. Instead, the joke is that McBride likes to get high and is socially awkward and that Franco is too seemingly perfect to see just how imperfect he can be. That could also be funny, but what it ultimately boils down to is two characters stomping around using phony, vaguely British, accents and slipping into modern-day idioms and swearing. Tee-hee, we’re supposed to think, aren’t they naughty? But it’s not too long at all before it’s not funny, just wearing.

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