Saturday, February 19, 2011

Your Highness (2011)

Laugh-out-loud, ambitious fantasy-comedy about a pair of medieval-era princes, one handsome and stalwart, the other a Kenny Powers-esque slob and philistine, who team up to save the handsome one's bride from an evil wizard. Along the way, they get involved with many genre-appropriate side-quests and obstacles, eventually forming a bond with a female warrior who, inevitably, is the philistine's love interest. The true innovation of this movie is a reappropriation of the tone of 2001's A Knight's Tale, with it's amalgam of era-appropriate and anachronistic dialogue and circumstances, just done to the umpteenth degree; while some scenes are riddled with "thines" and "thous," in one of my favorite moments, the handsome prince reacts to news of the female warrior's joining of their party with a genuine, "Nice!" However, to counteract the fantasy stuff, the first hour (prior to the addition of Natalie Portman's badass chica) has a very strong buddy comedy element, with the two princes having a strained, yet bro-y relationship that recalls David Gordon Green's last film, Pineapple Express; separating the two for third-act tension is the film's most crucial flaw, along with the lack of a payoff a la the brilliant "I'm gonna save you, man" scene in the latter film. The fantasy stuff is very cool, and played surprisingly straight, with some pretty inventive and creative scenarios and creatures, but the ending promises a more spectacular display of magic and wizardry than it ultimately delivers on. Ultimately, the film achieves a tone not unlike Land of the Lost, where, while there are genuinely cool things going on, the true essence of the film is defined through its comedy and its tongue-in-cheek tone.

While I figured, prior to seeing the film, that Danny McBride would kill it as what is essentially a dark age-era Kenny Powers, cussing, womanizing, and abusing drugs with an intense, thoroughly intent vigor, it is James Franco, as the foppy heir to their fathers throne, who ends up standing out. Investing his character with a different sort of sexual and behavioral naivete than his character from Pineapple Express, he smiles, poses, and sings (terribly) through the film without once taking his character too far into the realm of the obnoxious superstar role; he has true love for his brother, and actually respects him for not succumbing to the superficial, castrating pressures of the royal court and their father. However, about an hour or so in, he joins his love interest (a surprisingly funny, but disappointingly sparse Zooey Deschanel) in captivity, and Natalie Portman permanently joins McBride to defeat the evil wizard and save the two lovers. Here, without the constant verbal interplay of Franco and McBride, the film begins taking itself too seriously, and several unnecessary plot elements begin to develop, before faltering and being forgotten about. While the action in the final showdown IS big, and only slightly anticlimactic, it is not dynamic or interesting enough to cover for the decided lack of laughs in that section of the film. That being said, the rest of the film balances its tone nicely, with Charles Dance, Damian Lewis, and Toby Jones (well, maybe not Toby Jones) adding a touch of gravity and dimension to the proceedings, but it only barely survives the cliched, lazy plotting the film eventually succumbs to. And Natalie Portman, skivvies or no, is having a tremendously overexposed year, with Black Swan, No Strings Attached, The Other Woman, Thor, and this all opening within THE FIRST 6 MONTHS of 2011. Her familiar, and boringly Episode 1-ish appearance in the film deflates much of the momentum from the films sails, and the successive beats that work function despite, and not at all in due to, her presence.

Recommended to fans of goofily epic and large sci-fi/fantasy films, a la Land of the Lost, or Judd Apatow buddy comedies, like the aforementioned Pineapple Express. There are a number of potsmoking references and scenes, but this is not the stoner comedy its title would lead you to believe; way more Krull than Cheech and Chong.

P.S. Justin Thereoux may be slightly too cutesy and self-aware as the evil wizard, but he gets some INCREDIBLE moments and lines, such as the already iconic response to the King's, "And how do you expect to do that?": "Magic...motherfucker!!"

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