Since the moment the initial, genuinely brilliant trailer landed for Your Highness, my ticket has been sold. Said trailer crammed quality laugh after quality laugh together, bolted on some special effects in there, but basically pointed towards a film that added crude comedy to the fantasy genre. It was set to be the funniest film of the year.
Only it isn’t. And it isn’t only because they sold me the ticket to the wrong film, which they blatantly did here. Just because you get Danny McBride, Justin Theroux and the director of Pineapple Express at work, it doesn’t, I’ve learned, mean you’re necessarily going to get a comedy at the end of it. For, as it turns out, Your Highness has far more fun being a posh-looking, 80s-style fantasy movie than it does being a comedy. Which is no bad thing in itself, but there’s clearly potential here for so much more.
The basic concept finds Danny McBride as Prince Thadeous, a son who is a disappointment to his father, King Tallious (played by Charles Dance). No, far more worthy of his father’s love is Thadeous’ brother, Prince Fabious, a regularly-questing, all-action swashbuckling prince, played by James Franco.
But, what’s this? Just as Fabious is about to wed Belladonna (the woefully underused Zooey Deschanel), she’s kidnapped by the evil Leezar, played by Justin Theroux. This means that Fabious and Thadeous have to stand side by side and head off to the rescue.
Which is just about where the comedy slows down and the adventure kicks in. Your Highness has a lot of fun on the quest, too, throwing in some genuinely impressive special effects work, lots of genre elements, and a fun leading performance by McBride (who co-wrote the script).
David Gordon Green, whose directorial career has ranged from George Washington through to Pineapple Express, proves to be an adept helmer of really quite technically demanding sequences, too, and deserves to head to the shortlist for a few blockbusters in the years ahead.
Back to Your Highness, though, and when it does remember to throw in comedy moments, such as Fabious and Thadeous heading off to get some advice early in the movie, it’s genuinely funny. But the rest of the jokes are spaced way too far apart, and too many people are underused.
In particular, Justin Theroux is great whenever he’s on screen, but that’s nowhere near enough. Natalie Portman, meanwhile, struggles in a comedy for the second time this year, although her action sequences are far, far more impressive.
It’s left to the double act of McBride and Franco to carry much of the movie, and they just about muddle through. McBride swears like a trooper, and does the reluctant hero well. Plus, he’s capable, as fans of Eastbound & Down will know too well, of getting a laugh out of nothing. Which he does from time to time.
James Franco, meanwhile, comes across as if he’s continuing his stint hosting the Oscars. Pitching his performance just a little over the top, his fixed grin and worthy hero demeanour holds together, and I’d happily sit through a further quest in the company of Franco and McBride.
But, for that to work, some firmer decisions need to be made. Because I maintain that Your Highness is a fun fantasy movie that perhaps feels a little too long, but does entertain. Yet, it’s much, much less successful as a comedy (the genuinely funny joke count is really quite low), relying too heavily on a quick swear word to try and remind us that it’s trying to pillage jokes from its central concept.
The sequences that genuinely marry up comedy and fantasy together are, inevitably, amongst the best, and that’s the sweetspot that Your Highness 2 would have to hit. Because Your Highness 1 doesn’t manage it.
To paraphrase the film, it needs more comedy magic, motherfucker.
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