George Washington and Undertow director David Gordon Green once aspired to be the next Terrence Malick. He set his sights lower with 2008’s stoner action-comedy Pineapple Express, and the new sword-and-sorcery send-up Your Highness aims lower still. How low? Any lower and it wouldn’t be a film, just a home video of Danny McBride and James Franco haphazardly trying to remember their favorite lines from Dazed And Confused while playing Dungeons & Dragons. There’s nothing inherently wrong with prizing entertainment over art, but what happens when the big, dumb popcorn fare isn’t even fun?
Playing the black-sheep son of a king, Danny McBride (who co-wrote the script with his Eastbound & Down collaborator Ben Best) watches with sour envy as big-hearted brother James Franco battles and quests his way to glory. Then one day, McBride gets an opportunity to redeem his wasted existence when a powerful, pissy wizard (Justin Theroux) kidnaps Franco’s virginal fiancée (Zooey Deschanel, a long way from All The Real Girls) and Franco and McBride must join forces to try to save her. A fetching, underutilized Natalie Portman co-stars as a fierce warrior the brothers encounter en route to their date with destiny.
The threat of sexual violence hangs heavy over the film: The brothers must find Deschanel before Theroux takes her virginity, but McBride and Franco end up on the receiving end of most of the threats. Audiences would have to travel back to I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry to find another film with so many gags rooted in gay panic. McBride and Best at least add a new wrinkle by having McBride and Franco jerk off a debauched male wizard for interspecies homoeroticism, and later having McBride’s sidekick Rasmus Hardiker fend off the anal advances of a randy minotaur. But is fusing gay-panic jokes with impressive special effects really the kind of innovation McBride and Green envisioned when dreaming about making movies together in college? There’s something appealingly perverse about expending so much special-effects razzle-dazzle on such a half-assed lark of a story, but while Your Highness often feels like an inside joke, the principals neglected to let the audience in on the fun.