In his first real starring role, McBride wrote and starred in this year's Your Highness, a fantasy Dark Ages comedy that struggled -- okay, it bombed epically -- in theaters, barely making $20 million. The movie is truly a mess, full of juvenile humor revolving around sex and violence mixed in with elements of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and any number of other fantasy and adventure-based movies. It's far from McBride's fault. Check that. It's not McBride's fault as an actor at least. This script is all over the place, but it does provide enough laughs through all the mess to recommend a little bit, but that's all. Just a little.
The younger son of King Tallious, Prince Thadeous (McBride) can't seem to do anything right, although to be fair he really isn't interested in doing anything not related to sex or drugs. On the other hand, his older brother and future king Fabious (James Franco) can do no wrong, going on countless heroic and dangerous quests. Fabious intends to marry Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), but on their wedding day she is abducted by the evil wizard, Leezar (Justin Theroux), who intends to fulfill a centuries old prophecy and sire a dragon son. With his team of heroic knights, Fabious prepares to embark on yet another quest, this time to save his beloved. Thadeous more than unwillingly goes along, getting a little more interested in the proceedings when they meet Isabel (Natalie Portman), a beautiful young woman similarly on a dangerous quest. But can Thadeous do anything right, anything at all?
That story/plot description is needlessly wordy so I apologize for that. Basically 'Lazy prince joins heroic brother in quest to save fiance' would have sufficed, but that's a little short on the details, don't you think? The movie does have its moments, and it has potential in a lot of different ways, but on the whole everything never clicks into place. The fantastical Dark Ages setting with warlocks, witches, spells, mythological beasts is certainly an interesting setting for a spoof-like comedy, but 'Highness' gets bogged down in all those elements. Where the violence and action in Pineapple Express was over the top and still worked, it just doesn't here. Long stretches go by without a laugh in sight, making it hard to remember the lines and gags that were good.
Now all of the juvenile humor isn't bad. A lot of it is surprisingly funny. Here's a good test of whether you'll like this movie. Many of the laughs come from McBride, Franco and Co. speaking in these ridiculous English accents and then cursing, dropping f-bombs and 'sh*t' left and right. Because it sounds so out of place, and the deliveries are so perfect, you can't help but laugh. McBride's Thadeous gets most of the great one-liners (read IMDB's Memorable Quotes HERE), his off-the-cuff vulgarity selling the lines. McBride commits to the ridiculousness of the whole thing, embracing the stupidity and the badness, especially in scenes with his squire sidekick, Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker), who he enjoys all sorts of misadventures with, usually sacrificing Courtney's well-being for his own. If you're going to see this movie, I recommend it almost entirely for McBride's very funny performance as ever-idiotic Thadeous.
The other names definitely caught me off guard when I first saw the trailer for this. Unfortunately, the bigger names don't look too comfortable here. Poor James Franco, typically one of my favorite actors working in movies today. He looks lost, not quite sure what to make of the movie or his character. As for Natalie Portman, my first thought was that she had been blackmailed into doing this movie. Her Isabel is basically eye candy, something for Thadeous to stare at, and Portman doesn't disappoint. She looks beautiful, even if her acting talent is wasted. Both Franco and Portman are better actors than this. That statement could go for much of the cast. Along with Theroux as the evil wizard Leezar and Deschanel as the virginal Belladonna, there's Damian Lewis as Boremont, a treacherous knight, and Toby Jones as Julie, Fabious' mischievous squire and assistant.
Mostly because of the talent involved and the unique setting, I really wanted to like this movie. It has its moments for sure, and when it is funny, it is very funny. Those moments are few and far between though, the acting talent going to waste. The movie ends on a possible jumping off point for a sequel, but that's not going to happen, not after how mightily this first movie struggled in theaters. It probably doesn't deserve the hate it has received, but I can see why some viewers didn't like it. Smart or even mildly intelligent humor, this is not. Worth renting, but be very aware of what you're getting into.
Your Highness <---trailer (2011): ** 1/2 /****