Thadeous (Danny McBride) has spent his life watching his perfect older brother Fabious (James Franco) embark upon valiant journeys and win the hearts of his people. Tired of being passed over for adventure, adoration and the throne, he’s settled for a life of wizard’s weed, hard booze and easy maidens. But when Fabious’ bride-to-be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), gets kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), the king gives his deadbeat son an ultimatum: Man up and help rescue her or get cut off. 

Lowbrow comedy has too few laughs.

Danny McBride, the co-writer and star of Your Highness, has enjoyed a swift ascension into mainstream comedy ranks since he undertook the same duties five years ago, in the independent feature The Foot Fist Way. Not many people saw it, but everyone who did was seemingly a prominent comedic actor who got the vituperative screen presence a promising gig. He was in swift order a pyro technician in Tropic Thunder and a drug dealer in Pineapple Express, before he got his own cable television series, Eastbound and Down, where he plays a former baseball star fallen on hard times who bounces off his own ego.

A stocky build with a belligerently set jaw, McBride has established the persona of the profane, self-obsessed idiot, a mass of ego and entitlement who invariably doesn’t notice his failings; his bluster should come with a severe weather warning. But in his latest film, a send-up of the swords and spells fantasy genre that reunites him with Pineapple Express co-star James Franco and director David Gordon Green, McBride’s demented sense of privilege becomes mere shtick as he plays a lazy prince, Thadeous, forced to accompany his noble brother, Fabious (Franco), on a quest to recover the latter’s bride-to be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), from the wizard who has kidnapped her with a view to satisfying an ancient prophecy, Leezar (Justin Theroux).

With a rubbery, faux-Middle Ages accent, McBride is reduced to playing a spoilt brat and all his comic energy dissipates. He’s not alone: this stale and increasingly annoying comedy manages to misappropriate the talents of almost everyone involved. Franco, for example, is back playing the virtuous leading man that he so often failed at earlier in his career – Fabious is meant to be so perfect that he has an almost oddball, comic quality, but the screenplay by McBride and long-time writing partner Ben Best lacks the subtlety for such a gambit, instead appearing content to sprinkle ye olde dialogue with expletives and sexually frank suggestions for easy laughs. Despite the title, and various prop pipes, it doesn’t even have the goofy charm of a stoner comedy.

Nothing is developed in this episodic adventure, which adds Natalie Portman as a righteous – impeccably made-up – warrior who joins the brother’s quest after their retainers betray them. Belladonna has spent most of her life as Leezar’s captive, so she lacks everyday skills – at a royal dinner she almost takes her eye out with a fork, but the idea is never built on, and like Portman Deschanel barely has a role written for her; their attempts to play the ludicrous plotting with straightforward technique leaves them floundering on screen. It’s cruel to see them abandoned by film’s flaws.

The most worrying failing, however, may well be that of Green. The one-time independent auteur (George Washington, All the Real Girls) was able to cast a distinctive mark on the increasingly daft shenanigans of Pineapple Express, transforming his reputation. But Your Highness is a crushing failure, despite the odd original idea – there are special effects such as puppets and miniatures that recall the movie’s '80s predecessors – that sneaks through. It’s meant to be irreverent and knowing, but the result is at best droll and all too often tepid. There’s simply not a single good laugh out loud moment.

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1 hour 42 min
In Cinemas 05 May 2011,
Thu, 09/08/2011 - 11