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Review: Your Highness is a delightful fish-wizard handjob

By 04.08.11

Your Highness: Minotaur Rapes and Wizard Handjobs Oh My

Let’s start by stating the obvious: critics aren’t going to like Your Highness.  Writers for mainstream rags have always been far too insecure about the perception of their own intelligence to recommend anything they perceive as “low” humor.  But the very idea that there is such a thing as “high” and “low” humor is born out of insecurity, a failure to understand and appreciate the nuances of human nature.  Critics will deem a “dumb” laugh too obvious to require explanation, simply because they don’t have the tools to explain it.  Which is stupid. Laughter is already nature’s perfectly designed barometer for what’s hack.

Which is to say that Your Highness made me laugh.  A lot.  Thank goodness I explained why first, I wouldn’t want you guys to think I’m dumb.

The last five or six years have been a dark time for spoof movies, not to mention comedy in general.  The highest-profile parodies were evil, punchline-free orgies of obnoxious, pointless pop-culture referencing by way of conjoined mongoloids Seltzer-Friedberg, with about the only decent addition to the genre coming from the criminally-underseen and underrated Walk Hard.  Doing justice to the format popularized by Mel Brooks or the (superior) Zucker Brothers takes clever writing, a deep structural understanding of the genre being spoofed*, and actors who can resist the temptation to ham it up, even when they’re doing something patently ridiculous, like, say, getting ass raped by a minotaur.  Your Highness has the balls-out flair of Eastbound and Down, a better script than Pineapple Express (director David Gordon Green’s last effort), and two of this year’s best-actor nominees.  It’s the best mainstream spoof there’s been in years.

As with any good spoof, the premise is simple: it’s the time of knights and codpieces, and Danny McBride plays Thadeous, ne’er-do-well stoner younger brother to prince Fabious, the brave and heroic James Franco, whose new wife Zooey Deschanel (looking great in a stuffed corset) has been stolen by an evil wizard on her wedding day.  The sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux) whisks her to his fortress tower, where on the night of the vernal equinox, he plans to deflower her under a double moon, filling her womb with the seed of a dragon (something like that). Thadeous has to help Fabious get her back, all while proving he’s not just a bumbling Tommy Boy idiot, etc. etc.

Your Highness works, partly because it’s much more writerly than Pineapple Express (whose humor relied more on improv-y set pieces which had a tendency to go on too long).  The characters are constantly shifting between florid, faux-medieval verbosity and blunt vulgarisms, which isn’t funny just because someone said “f*ck”, it’s funny because there’s also context and contrast.  They get a lot of mileage out of Kenny Powers-esque one-liners like “I’m just trying to catch a buzz a look at some buttholes,” only in Your Highness, it’s more like “We shall have dancing bears, Orientals, and all the berries you can eat.”

If you can’t recognize the cleverness of that kind of wordplay, it’s you who’s the stupid one.

The wordplay would work on its own, but the characters and story are also nicely quirky. Natalie Portman plays her character, a bloodthirsty, borderline psychopathic archer, with the perfect level of over-the-top earnestness, and even in her limited screentime, Zooey Deschanel’s Belladonna, a sheltered-but-beautiful princess, is allowed to do more than just play the straight man/damsel in distress.  Which is to say nothing of an evil dickless wood nymph, a stoned pederastic fish creature that demands handjobs, and James Franco’s sidekick, a mechanical falcon that babbles unintelligible robotic squawks (a fantastic character).  As much as Your Highness is a spoof on Lord of the Rings and supernatural knight adventures in general, most of the jokes are just creative, absurdist riffs that aren’t references to anything in particular.

My only real criticism of is the action sequences.  Much like Pineapple Express, it feels like the comedy writers wrote the script, then brought in stunt coordinators from Bourne or Die Hard to handle the action pieces.  It doesn’t work.  Straightforward action sequences feel dull in the middle of a silly romp.  Trying to cut “badass” between “silly” just makes the badass feel like a joke that didn’t work.  It is possible to make fights and chases as silly as minotaur rapes and fish wizard handjobs, just watch Eagleheart.  But that isn’t evident here.  I can’t tell if this kind of mix is something comedy filmmakers actually wanted, or something studios cooked up in order to make themselves feel better about taking a chance on putting money into an R-rated comedy.  Either way, it sucks.  Luckily it was a minor element.

Your Highness would be an instant classic if I was a teenager, and I don’t say that as an insult.  If you can defog the the haze of your own childhood nostalgia, I think you’d have to admit that it’s better and funnier than comparable spoofs we grew up on, like Robin Hood: Men in Tights.  It owes much more to Zucker Brothers classics like Naked Gun or Top Secret! than it does the hammier, more reference-dependent Mel Brooks stuff.  And there were a lot of bare tits, which was also nice.

GRADE: A-

*”Spoof” is also Aussie slang for semen, which is always a fun way to read these things


TAGSMINOTAUR RAPEreviewsYOUR HIGHNESS

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