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Review: 'Your Highness' is a bust

By Tom Charity, CNN
Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel star in "Your Highness."
Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel star in "Your Highness."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Your Highness" is a medieval romp starring Natalie Portman and James Franco
  • Reviewer says there's nothing wrong with the narrative framework
  • He also says the film contains relentlessly smutty, lazy and above all unfunny innuendos
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(CNN) -- Odds bodkins, but this medieval romp is a strange and sorry beast, a one-eyed monster so starved of mirth it devours its own tail.

Insert a modern expletive or three in an affected English accent and that line gives you the gist of the film "Your Highness" and its one and only comic idea, which is to recreate the rollicking sword and sorcery adventures of yore, and punch them up with anachronistic vulgarities and stoner jokes.

It's not a very original idea. If you've seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," or Rowan Atkinson's "Blackadder," you might not be averse to it in principle. Alas, "Your Highness" isn't a worthy comparison of such illustrious predecessors.

This misbegotten enterprise ­­-- a collaboration too far between actor/screenwriter Danny McBride ("Eastbound and Down") and "Pineapple Express" director David Gordon Green ­-- is such an egregious waste of talent it might send unsuspecting audiences rushing out to give "Sucker Punch" a second chance. Maybe Snyder's folly wasn't so bad after all?

McBride and Green go way back. The actor was credited as assistant director on Green's first feature, "George Washington," and played a supporting role in his second, "All the Real Girls," opposite Zooey Deschanel ­who plays the virgin Belladonna here. Ten years ago these young filmmakers wanted to make art. Now McBride is sticking a dismembered Minotaur's sex organ in Deschanel's eager face. How far they've come!

Then there's James Franco, as McBride's good-looking older brother, Prince Fabious, and Natalie Portman as the bloodthirsty archer, Isabel. You might briefly wonder if the movie isn't some hideously elongated Oscar skit gone horribly, horribly wrong, not least because Franco seems to be sleepwalking through this gig too. But even the Oscar telecast seemed shorter in comparison.

The pity of it is, there's nothing wrong with the narrative framework. The brothers are forced on a quest to vanquish an evil warlock (Justin Theroux, not so bad) and save Belladonna from a fate worse than death. Let's note in passing, the film is also very handsomely designed by Mark Tildesley ("28 Days Later").

According to McBride, they pitched it as "Krull" meets "Barry Lyndon," which is a better one-liner than anything that found its way into the script.

The old school special effects work is artful and amusing, with several affectionate nods to the influence of veteran stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen. A five-headed dragon transfigured from a magician's hand is especially ingenious.

If they had only had the courage of their convictions and stuck with a tongue in cheek tribute to those innocent fantasy movies, they might just have had something here. But the relentlessly smutty, lazy and above all unfunny innuendos (if a single entendre counts as an innuendo?) drain all the life out of it.

As for the "Barry Lyndon" reference, presumably that springs from the film's Emerald Isle locations, but Stanley Kubrick must be spinning in his grave.

Green and McBride are talented and energetic enough to get past a misfire like this, but that doesn't make "Your Highness" any less of a travesty. They should be royally ashamed of themselves, and at the very least, sent off to bed after a jolly good spanking.

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