Before I saw YOUR HIGHNESS, I didn't even realize that I had been jonesin' for a super-raunchy, ultra-violent, medieval fantasy epic stoner sex comedy. But clearly such a wild conglomeration of genres could be a masterpiece if done right -- and while I wouldn't exactly call this film a work of supreme genius, it's a pretty funny mash-up that is worth seeing if you like any of the parts that make up the sum. Featuring an strong ensemble cast that is clearly up to the task, the film doesn't pull any punches in regard to violence and raunchiness, and practically invents its own dialect that is a mix of Old English speech and modern profanity. It takes itself seriously enough so that the action sequences kick ass and you can totally believe in this world -- but not TOO seriously that it stops being fun.
The ubiquitous James Franco (another item to cross off his bucket list) and Danny McBride star as prince brothers who couldn't be more different: Franco's Fabious is heroic, valiant and heir to the throne of the kingdom; McBride's Thadeus is content lazing around, drinking and smoking and having as much sex as possible. Upon returning from his latest quest, Fabious introduces his new-found love, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), and the kingdom rejoices, much to Thadeus's chagrin. However, on the day of the wedding, Belladonna is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar, who intends to devirginize her to fulfill an ancient prophecy in a ceremony known as "The Fuckening," which would give him unlimited power. Naturally, it's up to Fabious and Thadeus to set out on a quest to defeat the wizard, rescue the damsel, renew their brotherly bond and generally raise hell. Along the way they encounter adventure, strange and/or perverted creatures, danger, hijinks, and naked people of all kinds.
The fact that this film works so well may not be surprising to fans of THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, also directed by David Gordon Green, who treated that material with a similar level of seriousness that didn't betray its inherent wackiness. Special effects are cheesy in an old-school sort of way -- crazy robots and monsters and witches shooting lightning all over the place -- but far better than, say, the recent CLASH OF THE TITANS remake (though the original CLASH is definitely an influence here, as is THE PRINCESS BRIDE). The violence level is gloriously high -- limbs and other extremities are severed and blood & gristle are splattered with great gusto. The movie pushes the limits of its hard R-rating with plenty of nudity by both sexes, as well as pervasive language that is even more hilarious for being so anachronistic.
Performances are solid across the board. Franco and the always-underrated McBride have excellent chemistry, and unknown Rasmus Hardiker holds his own as Thadeus's much-abused manservant. Theroux's Leezar is a sneering, horny, evil, scene-stealing bastard. Deschanel is woefully underused, but her sparkly-eyed daintiness makes for a fine damsel in distress. Toby Jones makes a bizarre appearance. And then there's Natalie Portman as a warrior princess on a quest of her own. She definitely fares better as an action hero in this film than she did in the Star Wars prequels. Plus this serves as a reminder that she looks damn good in a thong.
YOUR HIGHNESS opens on April 8th. It is dumb, crazy and over-the-top and I enjoyed the hell out of it. In fact, I can only think of one missing ingredient that could help catapult this film to true cult status. Not that I would condone going to the movies in any kind of impaired condition... but hey... smoke if you got'em.