Natalie Portman in Your Highness. Image courtesy Universal Pictures.
Great quests have been launched on weaker grounds than the promise of seeing Natalie Portman in a leather thong, and I won't deceive you or myself by pretending that I had any more noble motivation for steering my not-so-trusty 1994 Infiniti steed north to Roseville for a preview screening of Your Highness.
Going to Your Highness in search of T&A, it turned out, may have been the least ironic thing I've done in months. The new film by director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) is unapologetically a T&A flick, and a gorefest besides. It's the kind of big-budget B movie that filled theaters in the 80s: take the schlocky sensationalism of The Evil Dead, add in the knowingly cheeky anachronism of Monty Python, and drop a deadpan Bill-Murray-style antihero into the middle of everything, and you have some idea of what Green and his writers Danny McBride and Ben Best are up to here.
In Your Highness, McBride—also familiar from Pineapple Express—plays the Medieval Murray character, with a haircut that Jack Black should get royalties for. He's the underachieving brother of Sir Fabious (James Franco), a knight errant whose wedding to the beautiful Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is delayed—perhaps forever—when the bride-to-be is kidnapped by evil sorceror Leezer (Justin Theroux), compelling the brothers and their faithful manservant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) to embark upon a quest to rescue her. Along the way, they join forces with broadsword broad Isabel (Portman).
Setting the film in the Dark Ages lets McBride and Best traffic in the kind of sexual stereotyping that didn't require a change of setting when Murray was in his prime, and the film tromps shamelessly along in fear of no gag that a 14-year-old boy would find hilarious. (My friend sat next to just such a boy at the preview screening, and he reported predictably high levels of amusement.) The sequence pretty much goes (1) dick joke, (2) boob joke, (3) dick joke, (4) gay joke, (5) repeat.
This could be absolutely excruciating (see Mel Brooks's Robin Hood: Men in Tights), but it works. It works in part because it's so fearless—a recurring sight gag involving a minotaur penis wins the yep-they-went-there award of the season—but mostly because Green and McBride manifestly understand that humor is about tone as much as, if not more than, content. For example, take the scene where Theroux tells Deschanel that he's heard unseemly rumors about her fiancé's sexual history. Another director might have coached Theroux to keep his haughty reserve, but Green has him break the news awkwardly and haltingly, like an HR director telling a sales rep that he's being laid off. It's those unexpected treats of texture that keep Your Highness aloft for its 100 minutes.
I saw Your Highness with my aunt, who observed that it wouldn't be a very good first date movie. For a lot of couples, surely not—but if your date is looking to laugh and isn't afraid of genitalia jokes, Your Highness isn't a bad choice. The only problem with that plan is that if things go well, you might find yourself later taking your pants off in front of someone who's looking to laugh and isn't afraid of genitalia jokes.