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Your Highness

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James Franco, Zooey Deschanel and Danny McBride 'Your Highness'

© Rex Features / Universal / Everett

After scoring a critical and box office high with 2008 stoner comedy Pineapple Express, director David Gordon Green and players Danny McBride and James Franco quickly got to rolling on this medieval jape. But it looks as though the B-class drugs never wore off, resulting in a B-movie 'homage' that gives B-movies a bad name. No wonder it's been sat on the shelf for more than a year. Presumably, supporting actors James Franco and Natalie Portman were hoping it would stay there, given their current hot streaks. Alas, sometimes there's no fire without a smoking bomb...

Danny McBride boldly (or stupidly?) takes most of the heat in the lead role of Prince Thadeous, who is, ironically, a prodigious coward. He stands back, tutting, rolling his eyes and cussing as dashing older brother Prince Fabious (James Franco) returns from performing feats of great derring-do in a kingdom plagued by evil wizards, witches and dragons and stuff. Short of ending each line with 'dude', Franco plays it dumbly doe-eyed, evoking Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. But it's difficult to tell whether he's angling for laughs or genuinely baffled by dialogue that splices Ye Olde English with copious f-words in the assumption that it's funny.

In case you miss the joke, McBride helpfully arcs an eyebrow and cocks his head to signal the punchline. And with all the subtlety of Thor, he hammers most of his crude one-liners in the direction of Portman as the vengeful warrior chick Isabel. She joins the lads' mission to save Fabious's bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel), but only to get within arrow's distance of the sleazy wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), who killed her family. Like Franco, Portman plays it broad, yet she is awkward in her intensity, speaking of a fire that burns inside - just below her chastity belt. Which, along with Thadeous's one-track mind, are where most of the gags in this film are aimed.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so gratingly awful if McBride had at least one endearing bone in his body (as opposed to the minotaur's member that hangs around his neck). He doesn't perform so much as posture, exerting himself to such a degree that it's tiring to watch. In pitching the film as an affectionate send-up of '80s fantasy schlock like Conan The Barbarian, Green and McBride are partially successful, only because Schwarzenegger's tree-like turn in that film seems charming by comparison. Green is also too dependent on McBride to inject laughs where there are none.

As McBride furiously works that eyebrow, Franco appears lost as the straight man. It's as if he's caged in by the armour of the noble warrior. Pineapple Express was both ludicrous and funny because it played to each man's strengths; Franco tapping into his wacky streak while Seth Rogen grounded the story whenever he risked straying too far out. There was also a warmth between the two, which is lacking here despite scenes of male bonding around the campfire. McBride is simply unable to turn the sarcasm down below full whack. There's also a depressing waste of British talent, including Toby Jones (graphically exposed as a eunuch), Charles Dance and Damian Lewis. A stormy, CGI-laden showdown with Leezar does little to dispel the gloom clouds.


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