Apr 16, 2011

Your Highness [15]

Dir: David Gordon Green
The Princess Bride is good and all, but you know what I think it's missing? Dick jokes and swearing. Who am I? I'm a fucking moron, and I just made a film called Your Highness.

Your Highness sees Danny McBride and James Franco as Princes (McBride a lazy stoner, Franco a chiseled hero) in Medieval England. When Franco's bride (Zooey Deschanel) is stolen by an evil wizard (Justin Theroux) the brothers must go on a quest to get her back before - oh god, kill me now - The Fuckening. They're joined in their quest (for no especially apparent reason) by Natalie Portman, who also holds a grudge against the wizard.

The responsible morons in this case are star and writer Danny McBride (I say writer, I imagine the screenplay for this misbegotten piece of trash was merely transcribed while sat on school bus listening to witless 13 year olds make dick and stoner jokes and discuss their comparatively recent discovery of the wonder of boobs) and director David Gordon Green. Green isn't totally useless, I liked his 2004 film Undertow a lot, and he has several other acclaimed dramas under his belt but, on this evidence, a comedy director he is not, we'll come to that in more detail soon.

Danny McBride, on the other hand, is completely useless. Movie stars are usually possessed of at least one of a few essential ingredients: notable talent; supernatural charisma; likeability; astounding good looks. McBride not only lacks all these qualities, he seems almost be a black hole, sucking them from those around him and into some dark oblivion. I have seen tree stumps more compelling than Danny McBride, and funnier, for that matter. The problem is that McBride has very few ideas. Two actually. The first is 'hey what if we had a stoner in medieval times?' The answer to this one is that he's just as tiresome and unfunny as he'd be in modern clothes. The second idea is saying fuck, a lot. Look, I swear all the time, and I'm especially fond of the word fuck, its versatility astounds me, but that doesn't magically make every utterance of the f word funny. It's perhaps mildly amusing once, in the first seconds of the film, because it at least possesses a novelty factor, but you have to do something with your words to make them funny, and McBride, repeatedly, settles for the simple incongruity of medieval people saying fuck (or shit, or cock), he simply lacks the ability (or perhaps the will) to use the f word in the near poetic way that, say, David Mamet is capable of, it becomes like someone prodding you with a stick while screaming 'I said fuck, isn't that hilarious?' No. No it's not. Grow the fuck up.

There are one or two sequences that don't revolve entirely around the utterance of expletives. Unhappily they are no funnier for it, and one, in which Franco and McBride consult a Yoda like figure who - HILARIOUSLY - is a sexually abusive homosexual (I know, my sides are splitting too, sexual abuse is just so funny when a gay does it), is just out and out offensive. Another sequence exploits the magical comic qualities of boobs, by essentially saying; 'look, boobs, aren't they simultaneously awesome and hilarious?' Rather than a truly coherent story, the film is largely a series of deadly unfunny sketches. The boobs based set piece is the perfect example; it's set in a forest ruled by a man who looks like a large baby and is surrounded by topless women. Why? What is this society? Who is this guy; a king, a deity? What's with the nudity? The film doesn't care, it just thinks it's funny because, check it out, he's all ugly and stuff, but they're hot and naked, comic genius right?

The script is hideous, and it's more than matched by the dreadful performances. Because the film is so brutally unfunny it is hard to tell whether the uniformly appalling English accents are part of the joke, either way, it's not funny. Everyone looks ill at ease here, even McBride, who despite creating this role for himself manages to do precisely nothing with it. Every character works on a single note, and none of the late and half hearted attempts to find any of them an arc convinces (least of all the laughable coda between McBride and Portman's characters). Natalie Portman seems particularly adrift here, she never convinces as a badass warrior woman and her gifts as an actress (which are variable at best and depend largely on her director, it seems) seem not to stretch to broad comedy.

David Gordon Green also seems disengaged. There are some pretty landscape shots, but for the most part the film looks dull and there is no real invention in his shot and editing choices. There also some shockingly poor technical issues waved by, most damagingly the Yoda like puppet, which is so poor that it may as well be a sock on the director's hand (actually, that would result in better lip sync). The main problem is the acting though, and the fact that Green seems content to wave through these lazy and boring turns from actors who can, largely, do so much better.

There were, to be fair, about twenty seconds of Your Highness in which I didn't want to punch something, but then who can resist when Zooey Deschanel is singing? Otherwise, this is a total waste of time, money and celluloid.

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