How low does Your Highness go? As low as the deepest pits of Adam Sandlershire, the darkest pools of Kevin Smithport, the coprophagic caverns of John Waterstown. As its title implies, it also soars as high as Mount Cheech-and-Chong. It features geysers of gore; bare boobs; Natalie Portman’s bum; and a long, stiff Minotaur knob, which is something you don’t see every day. The trick is that Your Highness is played like a straight sword-and-sorcery epic, with nary a whisper of camp — a cunning weave of low and high, regal and smutty, splendiferous and splattery. It conforms to popular (bad) taste in ways you might find alarming. But on the far side of alarm is nirvana.
Danny McBride, who wrote the screenplay with Ben Best, stars as Prince Thadeous, the stoner brother of the gallant crown prince Fabious (James Franco). He cuts a truly repugnant figure, turning tail at the first sign of peril while boasting to sundry wenches of his virility. He would be too much the dickwad antihero without Franco to balance him out. And Franco is, fortunately, a marvel — as he usually is outside certain unnamed ceremonies. His Fabious is hearty and generous-natured, every inch the medieval knight with a whiff of dreamy surfer cool. He’d have walked off with the picture if a couple of genius clowns weren’t up there with him, breathing the air of Parnassus (and possibly other things). Take, for example, a skinny, rubber-faced performer named Rasmus Hardiker as Thadeous’s squire, who wears a two-tiered bowl haircut that his master likens to the head of a penis. He is worthy of it.
And Justin Theroux: Who knew? As the villainous wizard Leezar, who kidnaps Fabious’s delish bride-to-be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), he has the requisite grand manner — the sculpted gestures, the thunderous elocution — with enough hysterical intensity to give you glimpses of the embittered nerd beneath. This is exquisite tightrope comic acting: never too straight, never too fruity. He’s scary, too. He has three shrieking-harpy old “mothers,” and what he plans to do with Belladonna is too filthily convoluted to relay. It goes beyond kinky, into the farthest-out reaches of hinky.
Portman is Isabel: fearless warrior, crack archer, fiery avenger, hot bod. She comes off, frankly, like a high-school actress; her voice thin, her accent wobbly. It’s hard to tell if she’s acting badly or acting well for a bad actress. Whichever, it works. In her Robin Hood getup she’s supremely lissome; she lifts her bow with rousingly charismatic calm; and she has the perfect swift-yet-tinny cadence for lines like, “I must surprise a band of thieves and burn them alive in a symphony of shrieks.”
In the absurdly bloody hackings and thwackings, director David Gordon Green (who worked with both leads in Pineapple Express) more or less hits his marks and even works up some suspense — unusual in this sort of broad comedy. At bottom, he and McBride respect the genre even as they travesty it. It should be admitted that the banter is not exactly Wildean, and that there are too many homosexual panic jokes, and we’re a long way from the truly sophisticated silliness of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But Your Highness delivers on its title: a royal high.