Perhaps Zooey Deschanel sums this one up best in the DVD’s making-of documentary. She describes Your Highness as “a kind of dirty Princess Bride”, and it’s a shame that it isn’t as great in its execution as its premise would suggest.
In a mystical realm, King Tallious has two sons. One of them, Thadeous, is a slacker who can’t even acquit himself in the most basic of quests, such as procuring a treaty with dwarves. The other, Fabious, returns victorious shortly after Thadeous, bringing home Belladonna, his virgin betrothed.
Along the way, however, Fabious has pissed off dark sorcerer Leezar, who needs Belladonna to play a crucial part in an ancient ritual called the Fuckening. Leezar recaptures Belladonna on her wedding day, and the King pressgangs Thadeous into joining his brother on a quest to rescue her.
There always seems to be some exception to humour in big-budget comedies. To studio execs, money isn’t funny, and it’s often the downfall of comedies that might have been made better on a smaller budget. Some speculated that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ran into this problem when making Paul, which pales when measured against their previous hits.
On its own merits, though, Paul was quite fun, and put all its budget on the screen. Far worse was Just Go With It, the recent Adam Sandler farce that sent the star on his second all-expenses-paid location holiday on the trot after Grown-Ups.
You could never argue that Your Highness was too beleaguered by accountants. Being a 1980s-style fantasy movie with heavy drug use, nudity and profanity, it never would have gotten made, and certainly not with a budget of $50 million if such sticklers were attached to the project. I’m fixating so much on budget, because it feels like it fell back on the money a little too much.
Look at Natalie Portman, for instance, coming off the back of both the acclaim and the controversy around Black Swan. You’ll notice no doubles coming forward with accusations this time, because she’s doing at least eighty per cent of her own comedy in this one, and it shows.
Her tentative delivery might be preferable to the slight mania she deployed in No Strings Attached, but to be frank, she’s here because she’s a star. Perhaps you could hearken back to the fact that she’s had three movies’ worth of experience playing a fantasy maiden character in Star Wars, but Zooey Deschanel outshines her in that regard, with less experience in the genre and more comedic talent.
I’ve enjoyed Danny McBride’s supporting performances, but I was less convinced by his ability to take on a leading role as Thadeous. He puts a good inflection on “fuck” when talking in his cod-genteel accent, but that’s the film’s other last resort. James Franco fares better as the straight man in their double act, but it’s the supporting players who steal the show.
Rasmus Hardiker makes for a fine Baldrick surrogate, Toby Jones has a surreal but hilarious role to play, and Justin Theroux is deliciously camp as the film’s villain, Leezar. But as mentioned, they’re supporting players, obscured by the presumably much more expensive leads – which really sums up the whole problem with Your Highness.
Truthfully, the film is at its best when poking fun at affably rubbish 80s fantasy films like Clash Of The Titans and Labyrinth, and it sits far less comfortably when deploying big CGI effects, and pushing the mainstream stoner comedy element beyond its limit.
Steve Jablonsky’s score, which sounds like Howard Shore with a synthesiser, should be the icing on the cake, but because the cake has got pot in it, and is trussed up with incongruously big special effects, it feels detached from the more on-the-nose jokes involving mechanical birds, horny minotaurs and yes, that pitch-perfect soundtrack.
Your Highness is very clearly a film with niche appeal, but it’s still a big film trying to squeeze into a small space. It could have worked better with poorer special effects, which would have been more endearing in this case. It’s far from mirthless, and it’s not to say that big budgets are always anathema to comedies, but this one could have been more. Or less, really.
“We never dreamt that anyone would allow us to get away with this”, says director David Gordon Green in the feature commentary, which also includes McBride, Franco and Theroux. This is one of the extras on the disc that, like the deleted scenes and the outtakes, exhibits the general sense of fun the cast and crew had making the film.
It’s enjoyable to see and hear – even if, like me, you have your reservations about the film itself. In addition to the commentary, the disc also includes a number of other special features. Damn You Gods – The Making Of Your Highness is exactly as the title implies, with behind the scenes footage and cast interviews stitched together in a half-hour featurette.
Then there’s the usual cascade of alternate takes that comes along with a comedy like this, on which the actors are encouraged to ad-lib. The best of these features is A Vision Of Leezar, with Theroux cutting loose and coming out with surreal stuff as he shoots his ethereal message to Toby Jones’ character.
You can rent or buy Your Highness at Blockbuster.co.uk.