Another possible sign of the end times: It seems that our multiplexes are in danger of being overrun with meta-level exercises in self-aware genre filmmaking. Strange thing, that, because this time last year I would have thought such a prospect a dream come true, if completely at odds with Hollywood’s bottom line. After all, in this increasingly post-modern, ironic-chic world, genre retrospective is becoming an invaluable tool to connect audiences not only to the immediate story being told, but indeed an entire rich history of genre lore.
But, as we’ve seen in the past couple months, audiences’ appetite for meta movies appears to have been sated with “Rango.” The sci-fi ode “Paul” more or less bombed, and “Your Highness,” a pot-comedy riff on fantasy flicks (and, arguably, stoner movies themselves), will have a very difficult time recouping its modest budget.
I could rant about viewers’ stubborn refusal to embrace the new and different, but unfortunately neither film is very good anyway, and for now I, too, am ready to move on to other things until Hollywood can begin to realize the difference between genre commentary — in which familiar images and styles are used to convey something new and relevant — and lazy sight gags (“That’s funny because I saw something suspiciously similar in another movie!”) . This weekend brings another round of oh-so-hip meta madness with “Scream 4” (or is it seriously called “Scre4m” now?), so we’ll see how that goes. At this point, I’m not holding out much hope.
★★ 1⁄2 (out of four)
2011, Dir. David Gordon Green, U.S., R
Consider the strange case of David Gordon Green: He rose to early acclaim early last decade with a series of character-based mood pieces (including “All The Real Girls,” which remains the single most painfully boring movie experience I’ve ever suffered through), then abandoned all the meditative art-house nonsense in favor of semi-surreal hipster comedy. Green pulled a complete one-eighty with “Pineapple Express,” a deft blend of stoner comedy and action-movie satire, and followed it up with the often hilarious HBO comedy “Eastbound and Down.” It seemed that indie comedy may have a new king. And now comes “Your Highness.”
I appreciate, at least, what “Your Highness” attempts to do. Epic in ambition if not scope, the film is a celebration of crippling immaturity, featuring more low-brow humor than even most stoned-out college kids could possibly endure. The movie is filled with gags involving all manner of gross-out fodder, from a pedophilic muppet wizard to a minotaur erection. But at the same time, the film is so aware of its status as an aggressively dumb B-movie that it can only be classified as a contempt-filled anti-comedy in the vein of “Freddy Got Fingered” or “Pootie Tang.” Surely there is method to Green madness; I’m just not sure I always understand it.
“Your Highness” tells the Medieval tale of Thadeous (“Eastbound and Down” star Danny McBride, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay), a doughy and unkempt failure of a prince who lives in the shadow of his heroic brother, Fabious (James Franco, in all his smoked-out, squinty-eyed glory). When Fabious’ bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel) is abducted by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), Thadeous is forced to join Fabious in his quest to rescue her. They are helped along by Isabel (Natalie Portman), a woman-warrior and fellow traveler on her own revenge quest. Of course, all this is largely irrelevant, and serves primarily as a crudely fashioned launching pad for the biggest barrage of obvious toilet you’ve ever seen.
The gags are intentionally stupid (and perhaps even intentionally unfunny, knowing the always-subversive Green), but the film really shines in its use of one-liners. They zip by at a rapid pace, given pitch-perfect delivery by a surprisingly game cast. McBride’s bizarre mix of grease-monkey masculinity and metrosexual femininity makes him well-suited for the central role, while Franco seems equally absurd as the dashing hero type. Theroux is a highlight as the sex-obsessed seer, and even if Portman isn’t really given much to work with, she is serviceable — and hot, which is all that’s really required for the under-written role.
Overall, I’m not entirely sure what to make of “Your Highness,” a comedy so outlandishly stupid that it loops back around and actually end up coming across as rather clever in its idiocy. Perhaps it’s not consistently “entertaining,” in a traditional sense, but at least it commits to a vision, and gives us something entirely unique. Even if the execution leaves a lot to be desired, I appreciate the effort.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.