DAVE DAVIES, host:
The director David Gordon Green and writer and actor Danny McBride have been friends since their college days in North Carolina. They collaborated on the stoner comedy "Pineapple Express," which featured James Franco. Now the three have reunited in "Your Highness," an R-rated comedy set in the Middle Ages, which also stars Natalie Portman.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: The humor in the medieval, sword-and-sorcery spoof "Your Highness" is low, lower than - it's hard to find an adequate simile: the deepest, rankest pits of Adam Sandlershire, the filthiest pools of Kevin Smithport. The crude and gratuitous sexual references cease only during battle scenes featuring geysers of gore, and even then there are things involving, say, minotaur anatomy of which I cannot speak here. What makes "Your Highness" such a riot is that it's all played - well, I'll let you hear how it's played.
This James Franco as the gallant crown prince Fabious, who's embarked on a quest to rescue his fiancee, Belladonna, played by Zooey Deschanel from Justin Theroux's villainous Leezar. He's accompanied by his pudgy brother, Prince Thadeous, the protagonist: a cowardly braggart and incorrigible lech, and played by the movie's star and co-writer, Danny McBride.
(Soundbite of movie, "Your Highness")
Mr. JAMES FRANCO (Actor): (as Fabious) It's a gift from Belladonna, a symbol of her virgin purity. I hold it and savor it.
Mr. DANNY MCBRIDE (Actor): (as Thadeous) You do that instead of have sex with her?
Mr. FRANCO: (as Fabious) Belladonna isn't like any maiden in the kingdom. When I first heard her voice, a tear came to my eye. And that tear turned to ice, and I kept that frozen tear, far from my heart that burns with passion.
Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Thadeous) Just say we are too late and Leezar has had his way with her. Would you still be able to be with her?
Mr. FRANCO: (as Fabious) I don't want to think about that.
Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Thadeous) But just say that we were moments late and he was able to get her cookies.
Mr. FRANCO: (as Fabious) Shut up.
EDELSTEIN: The first thing to observe is that Franco plays it straight. His Fabious is hearty and generous-natured, every inch the medieval knight with just a whiff of dreamy surfer cool. And McBride plays it straight, too, in the sense that Thadeous speaks earnestly, his diction formal apart from the odd insertion of disgusting slang, and that he's believably consumed from morning till night with either having or talking about sex.
What's missing is camp - the wink and the leer, the fey exaggeration that was once the province of drag shows and is now the stuff of mainstream sitcoms. McBride, Franco and director David Gordon Green love the sword-and-sorcery genre as much as they love making a travesty of it, so "Your Highness" actually works as an action-adventure picture: a cunning weave of low and high, regal and smutty, splendiferous and splattery, with grand settings and special effects both awesome and a shade tacky.
Franco is a marvel - as he often is, outside certain awards shows - and he'd have walked off with the picture if not for a couple of genius clowns, among them a skinny, rubber-faced performer named Rasmus Hardiker, as Thadeous's servant.
But "Your Highness" belongs to actor and writer Justin Theroux. His evil wizard has the requisite grand manner - the sculpted gestures, the thunderous elocution - until he tips into hysteria and gives you a glimpse of the embittered nerd beneath. He's so unhinged, he's actually scary.
Then there's Natalie Portman as Isabel, a fearless warrior, crack archer and fiery avenger who joins the knights midway through the picture and shortly thereafter takes a semi-naked swim. Frankly, Portman comes off like a middling high-school actress, her voice thin, her accent wobbly. It's hard to tell if she's acting badly or playing the kind of bad actress you see in B movies of this ilk. Whichever, it works like gangbusters. She looks fetching in her Robin Hood get-up, and has the perfect, swift-yet-tinny cadences for fending off McBride's Thadeous by the campfire.
(Soundbite of movie, "Your Highness")
Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Thadeous) What exactly is your problem? You cannot even enjoy yourself for one moment?
Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN (Actor): (as Isabel) My quest affords me no such luxury.
Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Thadeous) Not even on the tender night like this? The moon's glimmering.
Ms. PORTMAN: (as Isabel) On a night just like this, I returned home from a hunt to find a bloodbath. Nothing remained of my six beloved brothers. I wear this bracelet, forged of the seal of their shields for constant reminder of my vow to avenge them.
Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Thadeous) My only advice would just be to keep your head up, hang in there, live every day to the fullest. Have sex as much as you can by campfire when you're all alone and your brother is out gathering wood. Just simple things like that.
EDELSTEIN: I love this movie, but be warned: It's a long way from the sophisticated Oxbridge silliness of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" or the Jewish Catskills drollery of "The Princess Bride." In his zest to show the dark side of machismo, McBride is often merely gross. But if you yourself are a gross-minded juvenile, or like, well, me, "Your Highness" delivers on its title: It gives you a royal high.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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