For a screenwriter, period pieces tend to be difficult — especially if they’re set in medieval times — dialogue being restricted to olden diction isn’t the easiest to write. However, with director David Gordon Green’s latest, which is an awkward mix of stoner comedy and medieval epic, that problem is quickly dispelled. How, you may ask? Simple, the problem isn’t addressed in any way, shape or form.
In Your Highness, we intrude on Thadeous (Danny McBride), the second son of King Tallious (Charles Dance), as dwarven royalty prepares for his hanging — punishment for the prince’s involvement with the dwarf lord’s daughter. Luckily for Thadeous, the attempt is botched and he — alongside his royal confidant, a sex-slave-turned-squire, Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) — escapes unharmed. Once home, he reunites with Fabious (James Franco), his older brother, heir to the throne, and respected warrior. The crowd cheers as the smooth-faced trooper raises the head of a Cyclops that he has defeated on his travels and waste no time to assembling for celebrations, in honor of the woman that he has also brought back. Her name is Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), and she’s a pure-hearted virgin that has been trapped by the evil warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux). Yet, even though Deschanel’s light blue eyes perfectly encompass the innocence of Belladonna, the actress is used as a nothing more than an expensive placeholder — the role of Belladonna could have been played by any quintessential bimbo.
Nevertheless, when she’s captured, Fabious embarks on a rescue mission and in an attempt to aid Thadeous’ failing public opinion, the King sets an ultimatum: The brooding prince must either join in on the journey or be banished from the kingdom. Not surprisingly, Thadeous chooses the former. Thus begins their quest — a trip that has them face betrayal, maniacal tribal leaders, minotaurs, and a perverse animatronic fortune teller who happens to own a marijuana farm.
Fortunately, along the way the ill-prepared troupe meet Isabel (played the illustrious Natalie Portman), an Amazonian warrior-esque vagabond, who is also after Leezar. If nothing else, Isabel, being a strong and independent female lead, saves Danny McBride and Ben Best’s script from being labeled as misogynistic — that is to say, it would have saved them if the film actually had a script.
In fact, the majority of Your Highness was heavily improvised. Green, in interviews, has openly admitted that there was “never a script used on-set,” and that “only plot outlines and written notes were used.” That explains everything: With McBride’s immaturity allowed to run rampant, it’s no wonder that all the character spouts are derivatives of the word “penis,” “breasts,” and “vagina.”
More appalling than the complete lack of humor, is Franco, whose work seems to be developing a pattern as of late. Much like his infamous Oscar debacle, as Fabious, the actor seems wholly disinterested. Perhaps it’s because he realized, when it was too late, that Green’s latest was a complete bore. If that’s the case, it’s a shame he didn’t warn us in time.