By the logic of the script for “Your Highness,” if I want to write an amusing review of the film, all I need to do is type the word “fuck” 500 times.
OK, so 250 would suffice. Not every joke in the script by Danny McBride and Ben Best revolves around the word “fuck” – just every other joke. The rest of them rely on blood-spurtingly over-the-top violence, groin kicks, dope-smoking gags and gay jokes. Lots of gay jokes.
McBride came out of nowhere a few years ago with the film “The Foot Fist Way” (also cowritten with Best), which has served as the template for the rest of his career to date. Generally speaking – whether it’s his TV show, “Eastbound and Down,” or his roles in films such as “Pineapple Express,” “Land of the Lost” or “Tropic Thunder,” he plays a blowhard who has nothing with which to back up his bravado.
The humor relies either on his ability to cow other people with his bluster or fold like a tent when someone stands up to his outrageous bullying. It’s informative that, among his upcoming projects, IMDB lists one called “Olympic-Sized Asshole.” No doubt a bounty of sophisticated revelry.
But McBride’s shtick is getting old – made older still by the fact that, while McBride understands the attitude, his writing is never all that funny. That’s certainly the case with “Your Highness,” a movie that hoists and then drops several potentially funny notions, even as it hammers at all the knee-jerk laughs that come from that sure-fire witticism: “fuck.”
It’s particularly funny when uttered by characters in the Middle Ages, the setting for “Your Highness.” You can almost hear the pitch: “We’ve got a bunch of slackers doing the Dungeons & Dragons thing – but for real. They’re knights trying to save a princess from a wizard. But they act like 21st-century slackers: smoking dope, ragging on each other – and saying ‘fuck’ at every opportunity.”
McBride is Thadeous, ne’er-do-well younger son of a king, who, when first seen, has just botched a diplomatic mission to a kingdom of dwarves. He’s jealous of his golden-boy older brother, Fabious (James Franco), who has just returned victorious from a mission to rescue a princess, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) – and comes bearing the head of the cyclops he killed.
But the cyclops’ master, the wizard Lezar (Justin Theroux), comes to reclaim the princess – so it’s up to Fabious and Thadeous to go on a joint quest to rescue her. Added bonus: If they don’t get there before a lunar eclipse, Lezar will deflower her and get the power to summon a dragon. And that would be a bad thing.
Betrayed by their knights, the brothers (and Thadeous’ nerdy page, Courtney) team up with a kick-ass maiden named Isabelle played by Natalie Portman. Since Fabious already is on a romantic quest for Belladonna, this means that, at some point, McBride has to stop annoying Isabelle and somehow win her over as a romantic interest. Now that’s a fantasy.
Franco makes a terrific foil for McBride and is never less than interesting – and occasionally even funny. But the script does no one any favors. The templates here are obviously “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or, on a lesser level, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” But even thinking of those much funnier films makes “Your Highness” shrink before your eyes.
Even the one or two interesting ideas in the script are given a cursory glance and then cast aside. The idea that Belladonna is less worldly than she seems, or that Lezar may not be man enough for his task, have the potential to be funny. But they’re never developed beyond a moment or two.
Which makes perfect sense. That would be too much like work. And really – why focus on creating actual comedy when you can just have someone say “fuck”?