Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Your Highness (2011) – Review

Your Highness is a good adventure fantasy film infused with the humor of co-writers Danny McBride and Ben Best, which is not for everyone as it is often crude and juvenile (so basically, if you are not a fan of their HBO series Eastbound & Down you are probably not going to like this). From an adventure fantasy point of view, McBride, Best and director David Gordon Green certainly have an affinity for similar genre films from the 80s (like Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Beastmaster, and so on), as this has the same look, feel and tone. Structurally, Green is influenced by these films as well in his construction of the narrative. The monsters, characters and special effects work well in the genre. Fans of this genre will get a kick out of Your Highness. It is not often that filmmakers work in this genre anymore, making epic quest films (aside from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Kull the Conqueror and the TV series Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert produce – Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess and Legend of the Seeker – I cannot think of too many, though a remake of Conan the Barbarian is scheduled to be released this summer). And thus, the film has a nostalgic appeal. The humor is certainly not for everyone, and will be off-putting for some. But fans of McBride and Green’s comedy directing work should know what to expect. It is not as funny as it could have been, in that it does not meet the high expectations that such a film, director and cast incite. However, it is funny (and I look forward to seeing what the Blu-ray release has to offer in terms of a possible director’s cut, outtakes and blooper reel). The film is comparable to Army of Darkness, a film that combines the horror and adventure fantasy genres with slapstick comedy (in the vein of The Three Stooges). This film is very much the same as it plays like a typical epic quest adventure fantasy but with a modern R comedy taking the place of most of the dialog, which is all improvised. Because of the nostalgic aspect of the film and the genre it tackles, Your Highness will likely be a cult favorite among its fans – that is the type of film it is. For fans, it is great fun. For non-fans, it is a rude, foul and a strange film (and generally not liked). Your Highness is a slight letdown as a comedy (but I have a feeling it will grow on viewers upon multiple screenings), but the adventure fantasy world the characters inhabit is great and a lot of fun.

Technical and acting achievements: David Gordon Green started his feature career making good indy dramas (like George Washington and All the Real Girls) before switching to comedy with Pineapple Express (and directing most of Eastbound & Down). Your Highness feels like a much more personal and fan specific piece than Pineapple Express. The film looks great and plays well (it really just comes down to a matter of genre and comedic taste). The technical work on the film is fun, both paying homage to the genre while having fun with it. Steve Jablonsky’s score is referential and appropriate to the material. It helps the film feel like a classic adventure fantasy. Tim Orr’s cinematography gives the film an 80s adventure fantasy look, but cleaner (as technology has improved). Mark Tildesley’s production design is great, and the best among the principal crew work. His sets fit the world perfectly (I particularly liked Leezar’s fortress). Most of the cast plays the film straight, fitting the world of the film – but the main characters act and say just ridiculous stuff given the setting, which is the point. The hairstyles of a few of the characters are hilarious onto themselves. There is both a visual and physical comedy to the film which adds a lot – when most of the main comedic moments are derived from spoken words. Zooey Deschanel is great in the film, and really not in enough of it. Justin Theroux has a fun duality to his character – being powerful and dangerous while completely insecure. Natalie Portman plays a badass warrior well, and is funny with the exaggerated blood lust dialog. James Franco plays his character to almost an absurd level, going overboard on the heroic-persona aspects and then saying random off-character lines. Plus he makes some pretty funny faces. Danny McBride is his typical self – insecure, but with swagger and sort of an I-only-care-about-myself confidence hiding his true affection for his friends. However, the breakout performance in the film is Rasmus Hardiker. He is very funny, playing mostly straight against the outlandishness of McBride and Franco, which comments on how much they contradict their environment at times.

Your Highness is not for everyone. But for fans of adventure fantasy films and the comedic stylings of McBride, it is quite amusing. 7/10

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