Well, that was disappointing. "Your Highness" turns out to be a juvenile letdown of epic proportions. You needn't look further than the title to glean the intellectual extent of its pothead-pandering humor, which wholly lacks the tragic undercurrent that made co-writers Danny McBride and Ben Best's equally crass HBO endeavor "Eastbound and Down" such a success.
The pair's medieval genre mashup fails by comparison. Even doled out to a stacked cast that includes McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, and Zooey Deschanel, the jokes often read like fairytale MadLibs filled in by a gaggle of stoned teenagers. If your idea of incisive comedy is the suffix "motherfucker" to a line of dialogue, or hearing the Oscar-endowed Ms. Portman say the word "beaver," then ready your funny-bone for one gut busting adventure.
For the rest of us, "Your Highness" only occasionally tickles. Lowbrow humor has its place, but Best and McBride make it the star attraction. Their focus clearly isn't on the plot, which serves only to carry our reluctant hero from one set piece to the next, each accompanied by a handful of easy gags. First we meet a pedophilic puppet (har har) and later a minotaur with a third horn, if you catch my drift.
Thanks to some welcome practical effects, the fantasy characters and locales actually carry audience interest better than the one-note humor. Director David Gordon Green borrows from a stable of genre classics, and "Your Highness" features shades of Jim Henson and Ray Harryhausen, among others. Given that aesthetic acuity, it's a shame so much of the running time is eaten up in a nondescript forest. The most absorbing visuals end up being somewhat few and far between, and at over 100 minutes, that leaves plenty of lulls.
And yet "Your Highness" is rarely an outright bore. It has a tendency to drag, and though the jokes often skew to the lowest common denominator, it's easy enough to fall into its dumb rhythm. I'd be remiss not to mention that Best and McBride elicited a handful of laughs from me, though batted well below 500. "Your Highness" isn't a strikeout for the pair—it's more of a foul tip. McBride's is a career treading water, and instead of expanding upon the emotional facet of "Eastbound," he merely transplants his Kenny Powers persona to the middle ages.
Don't get me wrong—I'm usually the one to defend comedians accused of role redundancy, and I'm far more disappointed in McBride the writer than I am in McBride the actor. But where elsewhere he blends his crudity with offbeat social commentary, in "Your Highness," he and Best aren't even trying to be edgy—comedically or otherwise. The laughs are cheaply won, and the plot doesn't elevate its archetypical underpinnings. Naturally, the intention was to create an unobtrusive framework for the gags, but then when the gags fail, the audience is left with no backbone of appreciation for the protagonists or the quest at hand.
"Your Highness" isn't a terrible comedy, but it is a disappointingly transient one—especially given the aggregate talent on hand. Everyone involved has been funnier elsewhere, though blame ultimately lies with Best and McBride. Their stab at adults-only fantasy earns its R rating, but without challenging a single convention or bringing one genuinely new idea to bear. That is, unless you count plugging profanity into an otherwise nondescript conversation. Motherfucker.