Wednesday, April 20, 2011

High School High

Sometimes I see a trailer I absolutely hate. The trailer would fill me with such a loathing and bring me no end of misery, often resulting in my dismissal of the film because there could be no way that it could ever be good, not in a million years. Sometimes my initial opinion turns out to be mistaken. Sometimes that trailer I hated so much turns from ugly duckling to beautiful swan and the full-length film is so much more than the bits and pieces of trash I had initially viewed. The Adjustment Bureau is the best recent example I can come up with, decent-at-best previews turning into a much better time than I had been expecting. So yeah, sometimes that works out. Sometimes, however, what you see is what you get. When trailers began to show for Your Highness, the latest movie by the director of Pineapple Express and the latest movie release specially designed for chemically-treated individuals, it would be safe to say that I was less than impressed. Despite genuinely liking Danny McBride in small roles in other movies and Natalie Portman's general awesomeness, I couldn't get past the idea of wastes of space like James Franco, lousy-looking special effects and the trailer's overall vulgar attitude. It was a major turn off, so when I sat down to watch it this past Monday (the only other feasible option was the historical thriller The Conspirator), I was hoping that the real thing would trump any previews.

Be afraid of where she sticks that arrow...
McBride plays Thadeous, younger son of King Tallious (Charles Dance) and brother of the heroic Fabious (Franco) in a mystical realm of enchanted creatures and heroes. While Fabious is celebrated all over the land for his bravery and combat prowess, Thadeous's antics are generally frowned upon by the people in his kingdom's court, and he isn't taken seriously by anybody, not even his own father. When his brother's bride to be (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux) for part of an evil ritual, Thadeous finds himself forced to join Fabious on a quest to get her back. Teaming up with a strong female warrior (Portman), Thadeous must discover a strength he never knew he had and rid the land of Leezar's menace.

It's good to be third in line to be king!
At first glance you might think that not a whole lot of effort was put into the making of Your Highness, and for the most part you would be right. According to director David Gordon Green, the script was nothing more than an outline for the story to follow, meaning that most of the movie was made up as the filmmakers went along. This outline was written by McBride and Ben Best, who in the past has teamed up with McBride on the film The Foot Fist Way and the HBO series Eastbound and Down. That prior collaboration aside, the lack of in-depth scripting means that all the dialogue here is improvised, which can be a clever move when done intelligently. Unfortunately, most of the performers here are obviously not that good when it comes to improv. Far too often, the punchline to a joke is reduced to immature cursing and poop humor, which the film takes the time to revel in. It also features blatant nudity when it can get away with it. Don't get me wrong; I like dirty jokes at times, but even I demand my crassness to aspire to an intellectual level. Futurama; Monty Python's Flying Circus; The Marx Brothers; W.C. Fields; Rocky & Bullwinkle; if you're going to be dumb, you can at least present that stupidity in a clever way, as these examples have over the history of film and TV. Instead, most of the humor here lacks severely, funny only to those whose higher brain functions have been limited by choice (and plenty of narcotics) or chance.

Portman wonders what demon she pissed off to be in Your Highness
Another item lacking is in the special effects department, whose sole duty is to make fantasy tales like this fun to look at. Sure, it's a fantasy PARODY, but when the story goes all out with dragons, witches, minotaurs and ogres, you might want to make them as real as possible to avoid seeming TOO self-degrading. Unfortunately, the team hired wasn't up for the job, as the effects look okay at their best, atrocious at their worst. It's obvious they blew their money on one or two big scenes and had to scrimp and save the rest of the way. One scene featuring a "wise man" who dispenses advice is weird in that the character is obviously a mediocre puppet, a clear sign of mismanaged funds when you consider a much more ferocious monster battle later on.

The blank vacant look to Franco isn't acting...
What was probably the film's biggest coup was hiring big-name actors to play the lead roles, most notably 2011 Academy Award Best Actress winner Natalie Portman, who gives it all but is all wrong for this role after capturing the hearts of audiences in last year's Black Swan. Not that she can't play the part; she's far and away the best part of the film as the ranger (think Tolkien's Aragorn or Legolas) with trust issues and a killer right hook. The problem is that she's BETTER than what this film could possibly have to offer. You might think that one bad role doesn't unravel a career, and you'd be right. Still, with 2011 already adding this and No Strings Attached to her resume, one has to hope that Portman makes no more missteps in the near future. This material is much closer to McBride's usual fare, and even I'll admit that he can be surprisingly funny as the film's cowardly hero. McBride is one of those talents who seems to be on the Jack Black career path; best as a supporting character, he's stretched in a lead role and can't be counted on to be at his best throughout. He's certainly not helped by his character's ability to be completely unsympathetic. At least he's better than Franco as the lofty heroic brother. This one's for you, James. Everyone seems to think you're hot shit. They think you have awesome talent. Well, I haven't seen it yet. Maybe if you didn't whore yourself out to whoever would give you screen time, or maybe if you kept the illicit drug use (need we remind you of your simply awful Oscar hosting gig?) to a minimum, I might be more considerate and give you half a chance. As it stands, you can't impress me, ESPECIALLY if this is the kind of material you so often bring to the table. The rest of the supporting cast is unremarkable, as talents from Deschanel to Dance to Damien Lewis are wasted and Justin Theroux doesn't do himself any favors with his mediocrity. And when you think about it, why would they even care? It's hard to believe this was anything more than a paycheck for most of them.

The film has horses... that's a good thing, I guess
I'm all for pot comedies, but when you take the "comedy" aspect out of the equation I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with what's left. Easily one of the year's worst, I had hoped that Your Highness would be so bad it was good. Instead, it looped all the way around and became bad again, surely a sure sign of the level of quality Hollywood can get away with when given a chance, by consumers too high to care. Honestly I'm not sure what the film's producers were aiming for; were they TRYING to insult most of their potential audience? No matter, I suppose. It's likely this film won't be remembered by this time next year, and I can't imagine a more fitting end for Your Highness than to go up in smoke.


briankirker said...

Two words: Lighten Up!

John "Gianni" Anderson said...

I stand by my opinion here: it stinks.

Anonymous said...

This movie, along with 'Land of the Lost' will find it's place. I laughed quite a bit and I wasn't even high. If you're criticizing the effects in this you might as well criticize the effects in 'Krull', 'Beastmaster', or the 'Deathstalker' movies because that's the type of movie they were setting out to make. Of course, with plenty of modern day vulgarities. It's not perfect, or close to it, but I enjoyed it.


The Opinioness of the World said...

Omg my grandmother loved 'Krull!' And nobody should ever say a bad word about 'Beastmaster'...or the classic 'Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time.'