The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Friday, April 8, 2011

Your Highness: Boy They Just Don't get It

Just came back from seeing Your Highness... it's been getting a shitload of bad reviews, but don't you believe 'em. I don't know how it's going to do on its theatrical release, but I predict it's going to become something of a cult classic after it shows up on DVD and cable, the default choice that everybody watches when they've surfed every channel and they fall back on one movie they know is sure-fire.

A lot of the critics are very angry at director David Gordon Green for making such a film, but to Hell with 'em. Snow Angels was a great flick, but if push comes to shove, I'd rather watch Pineapple Express, his gory Seth Rogen/James Franco stoner comedy....holy cow, the man's actually got quite a bit of range, and the critics act as though it's a flaw. Well, with Your Highness, he's doing something different, yet again, and more power to him.

Now in case you don't know, Highness is a fantasy parody that has a lot of fun with pre-Lord of the Rings movies like Krull, Sword and the Sorcerer, Conan the Barbarian, The Princess Bride etc. It was written by Danny McBride and Ben Best, and they and Mr. Green plainly wallowed joyously in such epics at some point in their lives....actually, Krull was on the TV in the background in one scene in Pineapple Express.

Now those negative reviews would have you believe that the movie tries to get most of its mileage from dick jokes, and using the word fuck a lot, but that's because the critics just don't seem to realize what's going on, whereas I do. Hell, I write and satirize sword-and sorcery for a living. I'm reminded of the reaction that Animal House got on its first go-round (Belushi’s ‘zit’ thing was particularly singled out for condemnation). Yes, McBride and Best toss the f-bomb around quite copiously, and the dick jokes can be pretty startling, particularly one involving a minotaur's severed schlong and Zoey Deschanel.

But that wasn’t got me and my wife going. There’s a great bit right at the beginning, where the King of the Dwarfs is going to hang McBride for porking his wife...the executioner springs the trap, but McBride doesn’t drop too far, because, well, it’s a gallows for dwarfs. Then there’s the whole Bubo motif. If you thought the awful little R2D2 owl from Clash of the Titans really sucked, you’ll get money’s worth on the Bubo jokes all by themselves. My wife laughed so hard at them she was starting to embarrass me. Other people were staring at us.

Fact is, a lot of the jokes are well-observed and just plain funny. Particularly choice is a scene involving a barbarian who gets killed by a booby-trap just like the one that killed Thorgrim in Conan The Barbarian. The movie is absolutely crammed with all sorts of clever parodic riffs, and even when it’s relying on completely original material---the nature of Marteetee's hydra-creature comes to mind---it seems kinda classic.

And it's not just the writing. The visuals are dead-on. The Irish location photography (utilizing the Giant's Causeway, among other things) is sumptuous, and the trappings are hardly less absurd than stuff you saw in Braveheart or Conan, or Prince of Thieves. I really enjoyed the non CG creatures, and it seemed to me that the visual effects guys delivered a lot of bang for the buck. I've heard the movie was made on a typical comedy budget, and if so, that was really stretched to the max.

The main character is McBride's Thadeus, a weed-smoking neer-do-well prince who's been living in the shadow of his wonderful brother Fabius (James Franco) day Fabius comes back to court with Belladonna (Zoey Deschanel), who he's rescued from a cyclops under the command of the evil wizard Leezar, (Justin Theroux). Just as Belladonna and Fabious are about to get hitched, Leezar descends on the castle, and, with the aid of his extremely creepy "Three Mothers," blasts the living daylights out of everyone and snatches Belladonna back, with the intention of utilizing her in a black-magic ceremony that'll confer ultimate power on him. When Fabius sets out to retrieve her, his father, King Tallius (Charles Dance) insists that Thadeus join the expedition, to finally make a man of himself.

On the way, our protagonists seek advice from the extremely trippy Wize Wizard ( a horrifying puppet with a transparent skull filled with glitter floating in fluid), deal with traitors who are working with Leezar, and blunder into the territory of the aforementioned Marteetee (John Fricker) which is full of naked babes; battling Marteetee's hand-hydra, they're bailed out by the buttkicking female warrior Isobel (Nathalie Portman), who plays everything deliciously straight and flashes her wonderful behind in a welcome bathing scene. After Fabius gets captured by a bunch of Leezar's boys, Thadeus invades a minotaur's labyrinth and kills the monster (embodied by some very impressive practical effects) with "the Sword of Unicorn". After that, it's on to Leezar's tower for a wild and quite spectacular climax.

One of the things I really appreciated about the movie was its willingness to play things almost straight at times. Some people have objected to the violence, but it's a welcome antidote to the pablum that figures in so many PG-13 action epics. The interaction between Thadeus and Fabius gets genuinely interesting, and Rasmus Hardiker as Courtney the squire turns in a surprisingly solid characterization.

Bottom line, if you grew up on Krull, or Conan, or Pineapple Express, you'd probably get a huge kick out of Highness. For that matter, if you like Samurai Cat or Zorachus, you’ll be jazzed. It's the best time I've had at the movies since Toy Story 3, and I'm quite confident that my opinion of the movie is going to prevail in the long run.

Sue me.

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