To say that the critics have been unkind to Your Highness, is something of an understatement. Let us just say that Zack Snyder may no longer be feeling quite so bad about those Sucker Punch reviews. Roger Ebert stopped just short of wailing “Absalom Oh Absalom!” and rending his clothes.
It’s Understandable why. While Green’s last stoner comedy Pineapple Express at least had the courtesy to throw in a few lyrical interludes to make it identifiable to a David Gordon Greene film, Your Highness makes no such concessions. It’s like watching the class Valedictorian fart the national anthem for his commencement speech. Most of those assembled just watched aghast, while a few can’t help but laugh.
I have to admit that I was one of the ones who laughed, even though I knew I’d hate myself in the morning. Sometimes in genuine amusement, sometimes in disbelief, but as laughter is the only real review possible of a comedy I have to report it.
I think the trick to Your Highness, is its specificity. It doesn’t simply spoof fantasy tropes. It spoofs a very certain kind of pre-Lord Of The Rings, cheap, 80’s, B fantasy movie trope. Natalie Portman’s role could have been filled by Grace Jones, with very little change to the film, save the enjoyment of watching it. For those arguing that the film has no satiric target, I dare you to watch it with a double feature with Conan Destroyer, with the warning that when it is over you might not like movies anymore. Your Highness looks exactly like one of those cheap movies given a Star Wars: Special Editions style make over to fit in some obvious but perversely expensive looking CGI (the equivalent of the one expensive matte shot each of those movies would get) and some relentlessly crude jokes. All composed with a loving care not usually seen outside of paintings on the side of vans. Pauline Kael once said that Paul Schrader’s Cat People looked like a series of album covers for records you would never want to play. Thank God she never saw Your Highness.
Yes there are those jokes too. Your Highness is the most unfiltered aggressive example of stoner humor I’ve seen since the early days of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. That particular strain of humor in which it is not merely enough to be absurd, one must be deeply unpleasant as well. It is not enough that the “Wise Old Wizard” is a cackling, muppet who smokes weed, nor is it enough that the strong inferences that he molested James Franco as a child a running gag. No the scene must end with the leads giving it a hand job. A Minotaur cannot simply appear with a huge erection, a character must wear it around their neck for the remainder of the movie. It is not enough that Justin Theroux play a creepy sexually deviant/impotent wizard, no he must be the creepiest most sexually deviant wizard in recorded history. Why simply be distasteful when you can be off putting?
Yet, everyone seems to be in on the joke. James Franco and Natalie Portman both look like two kids enjoying the most epic game of dress up in recorded history. Toby Jones in particular, well let’s just say I have no idea what must have been going through his mind at certain moments.
Your Highness is exactly what it sounds like. A great big smutty joke done at great expense both to the studio and artistic reputation. Whether such a thing has any appeal to you, is an open question.