Beware, milord! Stoners in armor, wenches in thongs!

Reel Time
Dale Hill

            Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Robert E. Howard gave us passages like this one in his story “Red Nails” (NOT a manicurist's diary):

“Conan, the Cimmerian!” ejaculated the woman. “What are you doing on my trail?”

            He grinned hardly, and his fierce blue eyes burned with a light any woman could understand as they ran over her magnificent figure, lingering on the swell of her splendid breasts beneath the light shirt, and the clear white flesh displayed between breeches and boot-tops.

            “Don't you know?” he laughed. “Haven't I made my admiration for you plain ever since I first saw you?”

            “A stallion could have made it no plainer,” she answered disdainfully, drawing her sword...


            Pretty racy stuff for 1936, hot enough to keep thirteen-year-old boys hoarding their pennies for the next issue of Weird Tales. Nowadays we might call it camp, but it still has a kind of reckless thrill, a certain jejune charm.

            In the current era, teenage boys have only to mosey down to the multiplex for some titillation on a level undreamed of in those more innocent days.

            Movies like “Your Highness,” which opened at the Narrow Gauge this week, are a gift. They're a gift to the aforementioned target audience, because they contain lots of bare bosoms and nasty language; and they're a gift to movie critics everywhere because they cry out to be shredded without mercy. The best that can be said for this one is that it eschews the whiny end-credit song you get at the tail of most “serious” fantasy films.

            If you've seen any trailers for “Your Highness” you have no delusions: it's a raunchy sex-and-drugs comedy dressed in the trappings of a medieval quest, throwing the blue language around as freely as the CGI effects.

            Two princes, a dashing hero (James Franco) and a slacker jerk (Danny McBride) set off to rescue the hero's betrothed (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of an evil sorcerer (Justin Theroux). Along the way the fall in with a comely warrior maiden (Natalie Portman), and battle a five-headed monster, a minotaur, and home-town treachery. If this sounds like a string of clichés, that's not necessarily the problem: Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series has tremendous fun piling clichés together in just the right order with lots of wit and flair.

            Wit and flair are the things lacking in “Your Highness.” I have no trouble with the usual naughty words – I actually know what most of them mean. I've been known to use a few of them myself as intensifiers in the blow-off of a joke (in private gatherings, of course), but I've never been guilty of using them AS the blow-off, which happens over and over in this comedy because, frankly, there aren't any jokes. There are funny situations and funny verbal set-ups that leave us thinking Yeah? Yeah? only to be topped by a potty-mouth expletive. There are also visual set-ups that are supposed to get a laugh, such as the minotaur's egregious lack of erectile dysfunction, and what happens to the  thing afterward. But keeping an erection around long after the tumescence loses its oomph seems pretty, uhh, pointless.

            At the risk of embarrassing them, I saw this movie with a theater containing that target audience, mostly high school boys. They laughed dutifully, in short barks, every time the F-bomb appeared, and nowhere else. That's why I feel justified in saying that this movie is not funny – the script tries to get the raunch to do its work for it. A word in the ears of the scriptwriters: there's got to be a punch line, and a rim-shot.

            Danny McBride is listed as one of the writers of this mess, and I can't imagine why he didn't write himself a better part, unless he's just not capable of it. As a performer he might have given some spin to his own pulseless lines, but his brain-dead delivery proves that he went to the Scratch-Your-Ass-and-Mumble School of Acting. Franco, a known quantity of some talent, doesn't fare much better, using an English accent I devoutly hope he was ordered to use as a lame joke. Zooey Deschanel, an unpredictable and fascinating actress, doesn't have more than four words in a row in this script, which is a damn shame.

            Natalie Portman is the only cast member who looks like she's having any fun. She manages to stomp ass and save any number of desperate situations while maintaining her poise and calm, and a scornful contempt of the boys around her, like Howard's Valeria in the excerpt above. It's a shame she gets written into a simpering capitulation at the end, but she can still do more with a blistering glance than most guys can do with a horny gesture.