If there’s a secret to making a good spoof movie, it lies somewhere in finding a way to deliver the same good the films you’re spoofing did. A war spoof has to have choice explosions. A horror spoof has to have a suitably creepy setting. And a fantasy spoof like Your Highness needs to have all those things that make an epic fantasy fun: swordfights, creatures, sweeping visuals and a general sense of heroism and daring.
Your Highness has some of these things, but what makes it a misstep is not what it lacks, but what it has too much of: overly crude, repetitive jokes, cursing for cursing’s sake (the kind that isn’t funny, just there because they couldn’t think of anything else to say) and the kind of derivative plot that makes you wonder if they stole it from a junior high school student’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook.
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Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder) co-wrote and stars in the flick as Thadeous, a lazy prince who would rather spend his time drinking and whoring than embark on epic quests. The opposite is true of his brother Fabious (James Franco), who has just returned from another triumphant victory with a new bride to be, the beautiful Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel). On the day of the wedding, the evil warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux) crashes the party and abducts Belladonna, leaving Thadeous and Fabious no choice but to go off on a quest to rescue Fabious’ love and slay the villain. Along the way, they meet monsters, wise wizards and the sexy but standoffish Isabel (Natalie Portman), who might be a better fighter than either of them could ever dream of being.
The plot is basic, and theoretically that’s a good thing, since it means there’s plenty of time to set up gags along the way to the resolution of the story. Where Your Highness fails is the gags themselves. Every one of them is a variation of a dick joke, a sex joke (not necessarily the same thing as a dick joke) or a pot joke, and after a while they stop finding ways to make it seem clever. What begins as chuckle-worthy devolves into boring and redundant. It’s not that it isn’t funny anymore, it’s just that you’ve heard the joke already…about 15 times, and it’s lost its zing.
On top of that, the good just aren’t delivered. The action sequences (apart from a carriage chase that is actually pretty cool) seem to just be roads to more zingers about penises or opportunities to somehow work pot smoking or breasts into the plot. No offense to pot smoking or breasts, but it just gets tiresome after a while. What’s the point of posing an elaborate fantasy setting and the ability to get really imaginative if you’re just going to squander it on jokes one might hear in a movie half this size? Except that’s not even really the point. The point is that even if this were a movie half the size, without the fantasy setting, it still wouldn’t be clever.
The cast (even McBride, who had this idea in the first place) is wasted on this flick. Franco seems to be going through the motions with almost as much boredom as his Oscars hosting gig. Portman is just as capable an actress in this film as she is in any film, but it’s wasted on what she’s left to do, and Theroux isn’t convincing enough to make his jokes matter.
Perhaps the greatest sin of this film, though, is its failure to pay homage or even respect to the genre it claims to spoof. It doesn’t feel like a fantasy film. It feels like a stoner film in chain mail, and a stoner film that’s not very funny at that. What seemed to be pitched as The Lord of the Rings meets Pineapple Express winds up being a slap in the face to both stoner cinema and geek cinema. It’s not that the content is objectionable, or that the people involved are talentless, or that the execution of the jokes fails. It’s that the whole thing is just an empty exercise in cursing, penis humor and clichés, and by the end the whole film feels like a waste of time. You’ll get a few laughs out of it, sure, but you might get more if you stay home, get drunk and watch Krull again.