People sometimes wonder if movie critics take notes on the movies they see. Each critic has his or her own method, but my answer is yes, sometimes. In the case of “Your Highness,” notes were taken. And here they are, in their entirety:
Steven, his lizard.
With Portman, conflict becomes cooperation sort of randomly.
I am very tempted to leave it there. I am wondering if maybe those three lines alone do convey the full essence of “Your Highness.” I like how the one in the middle shows me making an effort to be professional. Like I’m actually analyzing and finding fault with the plot of a medieval stoner fantasy comedy starring Danny McBride and James Franco as two princes on a quest to rescue the latter’s fiancée, played by Zooey Deschanel, from an evil wizard, played by Justin Theroux, who intends to defile her. (Merely distressing your damsel is no longer enough.) A nimble lone warrior played by Natalie Portman joins the princes’ quest, in a way that apparently I wasn’t so sure about.
The other notes refer to a couple of observed details, just to remind myself. It’s telling, unfortunately, that “Your Highness” has a whole thing about a minotaur cock and I thought I’d better write it down in case I forgot. I mean, why even make a joke about minotaur cock if you can’t make it memorable?
Also, you may have noticed that I’ve repeated the phrase “minotaur cock” four times now. In comedy, there’s a rule: Three times is funny. Four is tedious. And when you’re talking about something like a minotaur cock, five can’t possibly make it better. But there you have the spirit of “Your Highness.” Puerile vulgarity can be fun, but less so when it seems somehow both lazy and pushy.
Sometimes I’ll also jot a snatch of dialogue, as when interviewing someone and writing down what they say because it seems important. “Your Highness” had little to offer on that front. Not a single snatch.
Now seems like the right moment to point out that several young men snickered and one young woman shouted “EWWW!” during the screening I attended.
The director of “Your Highness” is David Gordon Green, who got started in tastefully muted art-house fodder, then made “Pineapple Express,” and now seems to be imitating the sort of Mel Brooks movies that make you wonder what happened to Mel Brooks.
“Your Highness” does, however, have a remarkable attention span. It resists introducing any characters without being willing to give them something to do. That kind of focus is rare these days, even in non-moronic comedies. McBride, an executive producer, also co-wrote the script (with his frequent collaborator Ben Best), and even found some business for Steven, his lizard. The problem, possibly related, is that he didn’t find enough for himself. Too bad: He’s funnier than this.
But look, I have no way of knowing whether the lizard’s name is actually “Stephen” with a “ph,” and I shouldn’t pretend otherwise. What I’m saying is that critics are useless with movies like this. “Your Highness” is meant to evoke that special age when a young man knows that Dungeons & Dragons alone isn’t doing it for him anymore, and he starts needing some weed and locker-room sex talk to keep things interesting. I wonder what’s in that guy’s notebook.