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From the DVD Shelf: Your Highness

In the DVD’s special features, Zooey Deschannel describes the film Your Highness as a dirty version of The Princess Bride, and I’d say that’s as good a description as any for this very profane, very funny fantasy film.

I won’t call it a spoof, because Your Highness isn’t out to make fun of the conventions of fantasy films.  Rather, Your Highness is an unabashed fantasy adventure, albeit one in which the main character is totally out of place in this sort of film!  That’s the genesis of the film’s comedy.

Danny McBride plays Prince Thadeous, a pampered, cowardly fellow who has been forever living in the shadow of his more heroic brother, Prince Fabious (a perfectly-cast James Franco).  Fabious is the sort of young hero who is usually at the heart of these sorts of tales, but it’s Thadeous who is thrust into the spotlight when his brother’s fiancee Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux).

The film is a terrific spotlight for Mr. McBride’s specific brand of foul-mouthed, man-child energy.  He’s enormously endearing even while being extraordinarily selfish and crude.  Mr. Franco also is given a real chance to shine in the role, reminding me of the exquisite comedic chops he displayed back in Freaks and Geeks. Fabious could have been a boring straight-man character, but Mr. Franco brings a gleeful energy and over-the-top chippiness to all of his scenes, making Fabious just as entertaining as his brother.

I’ve never heard of Rasmus Hardiker before, but he’s quite funny as Thadeous’ faithful man-servant Courtney, who dutifully accompanies Thadeous and Fabious on their quest.  Equally entertaining is the great Toby Jones’ as Fabious’ far-less-faithful servant Julie.  Director David Gordon Green comments, in the special features, at how he thought the comedy would work best if the ridiculous elements were surrounded by the best, most serious actors he could find — the actors who would be cast in the “serious” version of this film — and watching Toby Jones, Charles Dance (most recently seen as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones), and Damian Lewis (Lt. Winters from Band of Brothers) act their hearts out in the film only makes the story’s lunacy that much crazier.

Speaking of acting their hearts out, Justin Theroux knocks it out of the park as the wizard Leezar.  Mr. Theroux has popped up, as an actor, in places as disparate as Zoolander, Miami Vice, John Adams, Parks and Recreation, and (most notably to me) as the Werner Herzog-esque host of the Tropic Thunder faux making-of documentary DVD special feature Rain of Madness (click here to learn more about what the heck I’m talking about).  He’s also a solid writer, having written the screenplays for Tropic Thunder, Iron Man 2, and more.  He kills every scene he’s in as the despicable, though slightly pathetic, wizard Leezar.  (His pet name for the ceremony for which he has captured Belladonna makes me laugh just thinking about it.  It’s totally a childish joke, but so funny, and Mr. Theroux sells it with his perfect delivery.)

The two main women in the cast are just as entertaining as the men.  Natalie Portman has had a heck of a run recently, and her performance here is also worthy of note.  She’s great as Isabel, the tough woman-on-a-quest who encounters Thadeous and Fabious on their quest (there’s a lot of questing in this film) to defeat Leezar, and the dead-serious way she plays her scenes (whether kicking ass or bantering with Thadeous) is comedic perfection.  The beautiful Zooey Deschanel is just as entertaining.  She gets to play more obvious jokes, but that doesn’t take anything away from her hilariously unhinged portrayal of Belladonna.  She digs deep into the idea that Belladonna is totally naive, having been locked in a tower since she was young (until she was rescued by Fabious, only to be captured again by Leezar — it’s tough being the damsel in one of these films!), and even when she’s not the focus of the scene she’s always doing something funny in the background.

I’ve written a lot, lately, (in pieces such as my review of 30 Minutes or Less and 50/50) about how difficult it is for comedies to walk the line between being funny while also telling a compelling, engaging story.  Your Highness does a terrific job of this.  As I wrote above, the filmmakers clearly set out to make a real fantasy film (just one in which the main character is totally out-of-place), and the film’s visuals really help to sell the adventure aspect of the film.  The effects, the sets, the costumes, and the action sequences all have an epic scope that really surprised and impressed me.

I was surprised that this film by the director of The Pineapple Express, and starring several of that film’s key players, came and went from theatres so quickly earlier this year.  I actually found it to be a much more successful film, overall, then Pineapple. It’s totally juvenile and ridiculous, but it hit me right in my comedic sweet-spot.

(Note that I watched the unrated version of this film on DVD.  I’m not sure if the theatrical version was a little tamer, but why would I ever care to find out?)

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