Your Highness – film review

Sword and saucery

Release date: 15 April 2011
15 * 102 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel,
Damien Lewis

This lowbrow chivalric comedy disregards the latest wave of big-budget fantasy movies, which began with The Fellowship Of The Ring and now draws to a close a decade later with the concluding episodes of Harry Potter and the Narnia series. Instead, Your Highness aims to send up a much earlier strain of fantasy cinema, lampooning the lo-fi pomposity of fantasy films from the early ‘80s, notably Conan The Barbarian, Labyrinth and the original Clash Of The Titans. But with its relentless barrage of grotty gags and gross-out humour, the movie often feels more like a remake of Deathstalker or Barbarian Queen, best-forgotten sword and sorcery sleazefests from the same era.

Danny McBride (reprising his self-obsessed jackass persona from TV’s Eastbound And Down) plays Prince Thadeous, the cowardly brother of the fabulous Prince Fabious (James Franco). Thadeous is forced to man up and quest alongside his brother when Fabious’s bride (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the sneering wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). Their quest revisits some familiar fantasy scenes – consulting the mystic hermit, capture by a tribe of topless Amazons, retrieving a magic sword – albeit with added 21st century spunk and rape jokes.

There are glimmers of inspired comedy: Franco’s princely nitwit, Theroux’s henpecked evil wizard and Natalie Portman as a psychopathic adventuress (there’s also a great gag involving a bad-acting barbarian). But rather than explore the genre’s stereotypes, the movie constantly falls back on smut. You’re numb with it by the time you get to the bit with the randy minotaur (complete with third horn).

As a retro-fantasy adventure, however, Your Highness works surprisingly well. Shot on suitably rugged locations in Northern Ireland, it features a thrilling bit of rough and tumble aboard a runaway stagecoach and a kick-ass battle with an acid-spitting hydra. There’s a genuine affection for the genre here, although some of the subtler references may go over your head, unless you’re the sort of person who’s watched Conan The Destroyer more than twice. But it does rather make you pine for the more innocent days when you could enjoy high adventure instead of having to watch James Franco toss off a muppet.

Alec Worley