Unpleasant to the eye, ear and stomach, David Gordon Green’s medieval stoner romp, “Your Highness,” is yet another slice of Hollywood historical cheese less aromatic of the cunning “Monty Python” franchise and more so of the Jack Black/Michael Cera Hindenburg that was “Year One.”
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“Pineapple Express” alums James Franco (“127 Hours”) and Jheri-curled Danny McBride (“Due Date”) are brothers Fabious and Thadeous, respectively, with Thadeous the fatter, lazier and perma-stoned-er foil to his brave and much-adulated older brother.
But, when evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux, TV’s “Parks and Recreation”) kidnaps Fabious’s bride-to-be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, “(500) Days of Summer”) — subsequently dismantling the ultimate medieval hipster power couple — Thadeous is begrudgingly forced to team up with big bro on a quest to retrieve her. Along the way, the brothers meet Xena-reincarnate Isabel (Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”) who, sharing similar sorcerer-slaying ambitions, joins the THC-laced ride.
Disengaging from start to finish, “Your Highness” is a bumbling footrace hampered by flat acting, an unearthly assault of masturbation gags (that’s so Chaucer!) and spats of gratuitous nudity. Despite being visibly more animated than his mortician-like turn as Oscars host, Franco’s omnipresent sheepish grin and forced British accent convey a strained performance (that, or being supremely elevated out of one’s gourd).
Equally disappointing is the underuse of Deschanel, whose minimal screen time is a disservice to the charming actress. And while Portman does not tank, it is unfortunate that the regal starlet would pirouette into a campy medieval flick. Though their every film need not be an awards season darling, one would expect promising upstarts like Franco and Portman to more wisely choose their roles — preferably not the lowbrow scraps that are best left unproduced.
Instead it is McBride — whose grimy Kenny Powers character on HBO’s “Eastbound and Down” has usurped Jeff Foxworthy and co. as popular culture’s redneck-of-the-moment — who is left to anchor the film. To his credit, he nails perfectly the deadpan, finger-to-the-world delivery that abrasively begged laughs in 2006’s cultish “The Foot Fist Way.” Complementing McBride’s Thadeous is his bowl-cut befitted lackey Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker, “I Want Candy”), frequently the subject of his master’s well-timed verbal riffs that help brew a largely absent comedic chemistry between characters.
But McBride’s gross-out jokes — physically manifested by the unsightly Minotaur penis he wears around his neck ― quickly tire, as does the irony of juxtaposing F-bombs in antiquated medieval tongue. And when the lead’s comedic vitriol wears thin, Green’s fantastical oddities are unsuccessfully left flailing for chuckles: Chief among these is a pipe-ripping, “wise wizard” anthropomorphic creature who demands, uh, licentious favors from his visitors in a scene more irksome than it is amusing.
Cut to its core, “Your Highness” is reminiscent of Green’s “Pineapple Express” template (misfit characters banding together to defeat a formidable power) flimsily disguised in chainmail — except this peace-pipe treatment of the Middle Ages grossly misses the mark. Sure, it’s over-quoted and endlessly recycled, but the satirical Terry Gilliam-led “Holy Grail” crew of the seventies has never looked so refreshing — “It’s just a flesh wound!” the film’s Black Knight famously claims. For Franco, McBride and Portman, “Your Highness” is a much deeper gash.