The target audience for this film.
I found this mostly-finished review languishing on my computer and thought I should blow the dust off of it and finally get back in the reviewing game. For those not in the know, Cirque des Geeks is where I and a couple of friends do the occasional review, when we remember that it exists.
At the time of writing the bulk of this review I had just come back from watching fantasy comedy Your Highness with my sister. Tellingly we’d had the entire screening room to ourselves.
To say I’d heard mixed reviews before going in would be more than a bit of a fib; in truth all of the reviews I’d read said pretty much the same thing. They panned it. And deservedly so. If I were to write this review in just three words, those words would be ‘not funny enough’. But where would be the fun in that?
Plot recap: Danny McBride plays Prince Thaddeus, second-fiddle to and dweller in the shadow of his aptly named elder brother Prince Fabious, played by James Franco. While his celebrated brother is off slaying villains and rescuing maidens, Thaddeus and his manservant Courtney loaf around drinking, wenching and getting stoned. When Fabious’ new fiancé is kidnapped by an evil wizard, however, Thaddeus gets roped into helping him on his quest to retrieve her and thwart the wizard’s attempt to fulfil an ancient prophecy … by boning her.
Standard fantasy stuff, then?
Your Highness is the sort of film that I should have loved. It plays with such traditional fantasy tropes and stereotypes as the Noble Prince, the Grand Quest, the Warrior Maiden. The protagonist, being reluctant and childishly surly, is at odds with the traditional square-jawed hero. It had the potential to be a great Pratchett-style satire capable of tipping the dusty genre of high fantasy on its head. Instead it just gives it a wedgie and laughs at its chainmail underwear.
See that ‘hilarious’ quip up there in title of this post? That’s more or less the calibre of jokes on offer in this film. It’s far from high brow; most of the jokes are penis-related and very unfunny. Not every films needs to be sophisticated, of course – but equally, not every film or genre suits the stoner-comedy treatment. Especially when it’s simply not funny. Laughs are few and far between which is not an especially desirable trait in a comedy. There are long stretches where it would seem as if the film were playing it straight if it weren’t for the fact that every other sentence is filled with ‘humorous’ expletives. Swearing for the sake of swearing isn’t funny. Using the word ‘fuck’ in a grating whiny tone is not always an acceptable substitute for an actual punchline.
The lack of effective jokes also highlights the sub-standard ‘quest to point A to get item B to defeat bad guy C’ plot which would be excusable (even expected) in a parody film such as this. The jokes would serve to ridicule the flimsiness of the plot, not leave it squirming in plain sight trying to be taken seriously. Apparently the film’s dialogue was mostly improvised; perhaps that was a bad idea.
It’s not all negative, though. The special effects were mostly excellent, including a perverted puppet wizard and a well-endowed minotaur. There was a very interesting arena fight scene which had a better CGI monster than most straight fantasy films I’ve seen recently, and you can tell that quite a few of the cast were having a great time. Natalie Portman as the warrior woman was clearly here to blow off steam from the harrowing Black Swan shoot, and she got deliver one of the film's best lines ("It's my duty to stop people who fuck to make dragons." No, you don't need context. Natalie Portman's delivery is context enough). Overall there was a strange sense of enjoyment to be had from the film. When the occasional joke did work then it worked quite well. On the whole, though, it just wasn’t enough.
It’s not a terrible film, it’s just not very good at all. It left me feeling certain that I could probably write a similar film myself far more successfully. I may well try it one day. In all, I give it two and a half Ye Olde Spliffs out of five.
Having reread the words I’ve written here, I think I’ll happily give it another chance to charm me. Perhaps an empty cinema isn’t the best environment to enjoy this film is. Your Highness round two will need to involve a large group of friends, snacks and beer. Plenty of beer. A heroic amount of beer.