Why The Russos Are The Best Thing to Happen to the MCU Since Joss Whedon
NOTE: The following review contains adult language.
Your Highness opens with a narrator’s booming voice warning, “Prepare yourself for one twisted tale.”
Boy, is that an understatement.
Picture this: Robin Hood: Men in Tights meets Pineapple Express meets Eastbound & Down. Now take the amount of references to male genitalia, lurid sexual acts and stoner jokes amassed between the three and multiply that number by a thousand. And let me just put it out there: I love a good dick joke as much as the next person, but this movie is the embodiment of the completely unhinged and uncensored brains of frequent collaborators Danny McBride and Ben Best. It is a test of your filthiest-minded, most foul-mouthed will.
Still with me? Then I have just one thing to say to you: You’re gonna freaking worship Your Highness.
The plot of this film is a mere formality. It’s essentially the regurgitation of every medieval caper you’ve witnessed, but that’s not to say it’s without momentum. In fact, there are some crazy, well-crafted action sequences, and the CGI – while, at times, kitschy – is more than sufficient to sustain the world within which its characters cavort. The set and costume design, as well as the sprinkled-in shots of sweeping vistas, also create a detailed and believable enough foundation for the slapstick tomfoolery of its players. Had all the other key elements faltered, this script would’ve easily entered B-movie territory.
The story follows two princes: The eldest, Fabious (James Franco, in a slightly more animated version of his Oscars hosting performance, only everyone else is in on the joke), is a strong warrior and the apple of his father’s eye (King Tallious, played by the distinguished Charles Dance, who, sadly, doesn’t quite get the screen time or creative leeway he deserves). Lurking and leering in brother Fabious’ shadow is Thadeous (Danny McBride). Deemed good for nothing by his dad and keenly observed as wielding vulgarity that masks his pain, McBride wastes no time bringing his requisite shocker-slacker characteristics to the table (his self-referential description as a “cocksmith and master pintsman” pretty much says it all). We’re introduced to Fabious’ bride-to-be, whom he found enslaved by evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux, who almost bests our pig-headed protagonists with his stand-out, over-the-top performance). Fabious’ blushing maiden Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, who never quite manages to rise above her “damsel in distress” role with any measure of likeability) makes her initial entrance, walking angelically toward the camera, her bodacious bosom on full display. And then all hell breaks loose when the two lovebirds attempt to wed, only to be rudely interrupted by Leezar, who claims he’s kept the virginal Belladonna locked up since she was a baby because he needs her for “something special.” When asked how he plans to reclaim her, he responds, “Magic, motherfucker.” And it is so.
In the wake of his beloved’s kidnapping, Fabious prepares for the ultimate quest. Cowardly Thadeous is forced by his father to join, given the usual ultimatum: finally prove his worth to the family, or face banishment from the kingdom. The brothers depart, a cartel of brave knights (and Thadeous’ assistant Courtney, played by the formidably funny and understated Rasmus Hardiker) in tow. Their first stop brings them to the Great Wise Wizard, a pervy, pot-smoking, purple-tinted salamander-like creature, who reveals the true intentions behind Leezar’s “something special”: Once every 100 years, two moons align and, as the “chosen one,” his impregnation of a virgin will result in the birth of an all-powerful dragon (an event later referred to by Leezar as “The Fuckening”). The only avenue of defeat: death by a sword crafted from a unicorn horn. Armed with a magical compass to guide them, the party is off. Double-crossing, arena battling, the introduction of ass-kicking vigilante Isabel (Natalie Portman at her most mind-numbingly hot), bro-style knight hazing, runaway carriage-helming, naked nymph-chasing, venom-sucking insanity ensues.
But what makes Your Highness such a guilty pleasure? A few key elements: McBride and Best’s signature take on traditional medieval dialogue and imagery, homages to classic Mel Brooks films, and – above all else – the chemistry between its actors. The screen is positively palpable with the overt fact that everyone is having a blast.
A few samplings of how the writers choose to poke fun at Middle Ages standbys? The description of Courtney’s traditional pageboy haircut as looking like, “The head of a penis,” for one. Or when Fabious begs that Thadeous, “Come be gay with me and father,” to which Thadeous replies snidely, “I don’t want to be gay with you.” Better yet, Fabious’ declaration to his party, “Let us drink ‘til thine asses are drunk.” But best of all, the adolescent awe in which our heroes approach battle – cringing in the presence of gore, yelling “Face!” after a big kill, and making masturbatory motions over dead bodies. This ain’t your Ridley Scott-helmed Robin Hood.
In fact, director David Gordon Green surely deserves much of the credit for the relationships he fosters between his actors, and the improvisation they clearly contribute to each scene. Your Highness mirrors the quirky bonds of his Pineapple Express characters, introducing us to their respective weird little worlds, unveiling additional drama when they’re faced with duress. The rivalry of Fabious and Thadeous is perfectly bottled in a number of key scenes – a playful sword fight early on, where Fabious proves superior and Thadeous reacts with infantile lower lip-pouting; a moment when the brothers “prophesize” with the Wise Wizard by getting righteously high, proving that there are circumstances under which Thadeous can best his brother (Fabious goes haywire after one toke, and Thadeous smirks, “Handle your shit, please”); or a clash between the two that leaves Thadeous sullenly divulging, “Everyone in the kingdom wants to suck your dick – nobody wants to suck mine!”
And then there’s Portman. Her undeniable spark with McBride can be summarized in three lines of dialogue, when Thadeous holds Isabel at bay with his sword. Thadeous asks, “Do you feel that tiny prick in your back?” Her saucy response: “Is that your cock?” He rebuffs, “No, but I’ll gladly penetrate you with it.” Portman casually drops trou in one scene, heartily delivers lines like, “It’s my legacy to stop anyone who wants to fuck to make dragons,” and speaks of her desire to avenge her brothers as a “burning” in her “beaver.” Oh, hey, Academy – this is your Oscar-winning actress, she’s going full-on camp in a way that even Darren Aronofsky couldn’t storyboard, and it’s terribly refreshing.
And you’ll probably catch yourself smugly flashing back to beloved Mel Brooks comedies at key moments. Deschanel gets her singing scene, but it’s less “written in the contract” and more “Amy Yasbeck as Maid Marian crooning in the bath” – especially when Franco joins her in delightfully ear-shattering off-key harmony. There’s also a Spaceballs-esque “combing the desert” scene involving a group of knights tracking a party by sniffing dirt. Your Highness no doubt harkens back to Mel Brooks fare, but employs verbal assault in the place of Brooks’ trademark physical comedy.
Lastly, lest you still remain unconvinced of the unmanned train that is this zany narrative, I’d be remiss not to mention that there’s a scene involving a minotaur with a gargantuan erection. I say no more.
If you haven’t seen Eastbound & Down, I implore you to watch a couple of episodes before you buy a ticket to this movie. If McBride and Best’s expletive-laden, blatantly sexist, fratboy-esque dialogue makes your skin crawl, you’ll find yourself shifting uncomfortably through the 102-minute duration of the flick, mired by an onslaught of penis and bedroom humor. This flick is resolutely for the fans – its appeal is not for everyone, but if you find the writing duo’s prior works palatable, Your Highness is a feast of the unbridled male psyche that you’ll savor. Heck, you’ll probably feel inspired to lick your lips seductively after doing so.
Your Highness opens Friday nationwide.