April 09, 2011

Your Highness

 Your Highness is one of those movies where you laugh--a lot--at its crudeness, but after the movie's over, your desire to be more highbrow kicks in, and you decide you ought to disparage it in your review for being so lowbrow. Your Highness might be better thought of as a legitimate attempt at a rip-roaring fantasy-adventure yarn rather than a pure spoof. Its main tack is to play everything with a straight face and undercut it with a curse word or some kind of sexual reference. So if you're not into that kind of humor, this won't be the movie for you.

However, Danny McBride's performance works. He somehow makes his obnoxious slob of a character likable. And James Franco is equally funny. His performance belongs in the straight version, and McBride's character constantly berates his attempt to maintain some kind of formal "quest movie" seriousness. The tug-of-war between those two performances is probably the highlight of the movie. Natalie Portman's character is sort of forced. She's essentially there as a penance because the movie relies so desperately on the damsel-in-distress plot (Zooey Deschanel plays the damsel, and has the least interesting part in the movie. She stares out a window a lot, and the movie occasionally reminds us of her presence--the reason Franco and McBride are on their quest--but that's about it for her. It barely makes use of her comedic talent, and while she sings briefly, it's only as a joke).

The movie also makes fun of what some people call "homo-social" relationships between men. However, it isn't all that progressive in its thinking. The camera ogles Natalie Portman taking a bath in a bikini (objectifying female characters is okay as long as they're good fighters?). And Deschanel's weak part speaks to this as well. Again, I was laughing a lot, but it really did feel like something created in a frat house. Many comedies feel that way lately. Frat boys have some comic sense, or at least they know how to use the F word to make a line of dialogue punch a little more, but these movies lack the kind of comic genius that distinguishes some of the better spoofs. It's not the difference between highbrow and lowbrow humor, but the difference between creativity and tried-and-true laughs, that work, but let's face it, are predictable and easy.

Your Highness has a good pace, and the quest part is fairly interesting, even if it clutches firmly onto familiar trappings. What got me was the ending, so heavily relying upon special effects. It made me sad that even comedies are deploying more and more of their capital to computer graphics. Surely the bigness of Hollywood movies has reached its turgid breaking point? And yet, the coming attractions promise more. I wish Your Highness had settled for something smaller. I think the jokes are enough to sustain it. But they seem to get lost in the pursuit of the dumb, enormous action of the plot. And there are moments during fight scenes where you can hardly tell what's going on because the camera zips around like lightning, and the editor seems to have honed his skills on music videos. He's following the style of the current editing school, which is music video-speed. Yet another reason for our diminishing attention spans.

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