Today sees the UK cinema release of medieval fantasy comedy Your Highness - which features TVO’s very own Simon Farnaby in it’s ensemble cast. Our editor-in-chief attended a preview screening this week, so here is his personal review…
There’s a strange air of familiarity surrounding Your Highness - the latest attempt to do justice to an epic tale of American actors pretending to be British, swanning around with occasionally questionable accents. As per usual, arguably more talented Brits are left to gather up the crumbs of what’s left in the script for them to devour, with scenery-chewing aplomb. Yet perhaps because of this familiarity, the end result is sometimes stronger than many of those it is parodying.
It’s true that in order to really appreciate the film, you need to have a firm tick in the ‘Danny McBride Tickles My Funny Bone’ box. If you liked his washed up loser pyrotechnic maniac character in Tropic Thunder, or his washed up loser tour guide out of his depth in Land Of The Lost, then you’ll absolutely love this ego massaging medieval fantasy quest written by, produced by and starring McBride as washed up loser younger brother Prince Thadeos. If you found both of those films lacking in the laughs department, the chances are you’re onto a loser with this one.
Fortunately, I was in the former camp already – and the inclusion of Simon Farnaby as a character known only as Manious The Bold, and a strong ensemble cast featuring Natalie Portman, James Franco, Toby Jones, Damien Lewis, Charles Dance, Zooey Deschanel and Tropic Thunder screenwriter Justin Theroux swayed me further. Sure, the trailers made it look like Robin Hood: Men In Tights with cruder dick-jokes… but with all that talent on display, surely there must be more to it than that?
The truth is there is a bit more to it than that, but not much, and the end result is one that won’t please everybody. It’s certainly crude – though oddly restrained considering the various possibilities to ramp up the yuck-factor. It’s also got a wafer thin plot that you can see coming after five minutes, while the jokes don’t always come thick and fast either at first, with the early scenes tending to sag more than a little. So much money seems to have been spent getting the period look right and the effects to look sensational, but not enough time has been focused on just getting a quickfire round of gags in where it counts the most.
Yet the film picks up pace when evil warlock Leezar [Thereoux] kidnaps the slightly dopey Belladona [Deschanel], right before she gets to marry noble Prince Fabious [Franco - do ya see what they did there?]. Aided by his stoner brother Thadious and his trusty assistant Courtney [former Saxondale and The Wrong Door star Rasmus Hardiker], Fabious sets off to rescue his sweetheart before Leezar can impregnate her with dragon sperm at a once-every-200-years eclipse event he rather catchily calls The Fuckening. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
Along the way, they meet a strange perverted jellyfish-like muppet creature, a rather horny minotaur (in more ways than one!), a tribe of cave girls led by the weirdest looking man I’ve seen on a cinema screen in some time, and the sumptuous beauty of warrior maiden Isabel, played by Natalie Portman, who may never quite shake off that Lonely Island rap for me! The gang also face off against treacherous knights who hinder their every move, including of course, our very own Simon Farnaby, who has a surprisingly large amount of screen-time for a character who says so very little.
Whilst all of this lacks originality, it’s all played with a knowing wink to the audience. A worrying number of genuine belly-laughs come from the simplest act of propelling foul-mouthed outbursts towards one another whilst dressed for battle and putting on the best ‘Ever-so-rather’ accents all involved can muster. As I mentioned above, the crude jokes are certainly tamer than you may expect, and come across more in the vein of Monty Python than American Pie… and they are not there to automatically increase the guidance ratings to make the film sound funnier than it is, but because deep down inside, there’s not a soul alive who doesn’t think willies are a little bit silly looking.
But it’s when the production takes it down a notch, and allows these characters time to breathe that the real corkers come out. Despite their flimsy characterisation, just about every major character is immensely likable. Even the villains are given priceless moments of offbeat banter, and whilst you may not really care about the heroes quest one iota, its only natural to want to spend 102 minutes in their company just chilling out and having a ball. For whilst we all wish we were highbrow comedy fans who care about seeking humorous responses to the human condition, it’s things like Python’s ‘Fish Slapping Dance’ or hell, Bob Fossil rubbing his nipples to the tune of 10cc, which really get us guffawing. It is those kind of stupendous moments that this film has by the bucketload. Your Highness is a broadstrokes comedy designed to be enjoyed by a group of friends sat around with a couple of beers and some popcorn, rather than a film to watch in isolation with a black coffee and a critical mind – and for that purpose, I feel it is probably on dvd where this film will really find its audience, and possibly become a minor cult favourite for years to come.
Is it a classic? No, of course not. Far from it, and several prestigious [and let's be frank, a bit arty-farty] critics have ripped it to shreds. Other’s have been far kinder to the film… having realised it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, and if you just kick back, switch your brain to neutral and enjoy the ride, you’ll find that Your Highness is onto a slightly ropey, but ultimately entertaining winner.