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Your Highness

(2011) ** R
102 min. Universal Pictures. Director: David Gordon Green. Cast: Danny R. McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux.

/content/films/3998/1.jpgPutting aside for a moment the greater issue of the low laugh-to-joke ratio, the new comedy Your Highness clearly suffers from bad timing. James Franco’s purposely overripe performance as a Prince Valiant-type is his first since his widely panned (and even more wooden) performance as Oscar host in February. And then there’s Natalie Portman, the reigning Best Actress, here cracking (un)wise about her private parts in an arguably tasteless comedy. None of this will much matter once the film settles into its afterlife on home video and cable, but it adds to the awkwardness sure to be felt in multiplexes this weekend.

Franco plays the ever-questing Fabious, first-born son of the king (Charles Dance) and therefore destined to rule the land. First, he’s to marry his sweetheart Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), with Fabious’ younger brother Thadeous (Danny McBride) lined up as best man. Undistinguished by quests, Thadeous is an increasingly jealous stoner layabout, but he gets more than he bargained for when he becomes part of a quest to rescue Belladonna, who is kidnapped from the wedding by dastardly wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux, having a ball).

Even those who don’t know their Krull from their Kull the Conqueror should be able to recognize the comedic target of Your Highness: the sword-and-sorcery cheese that was so common (and so odoriferous) in the ’80s. Your Highness is no Princess Bride, though: nearly every joke in the new movie is predicated on a culminative swear word, scatology, or rude sexual reference. McBride and Ben Best get script credit, but it’s not terribly surprising to learn that improvisation was welcomed on the set.

If most of Your Highness is tedious, it also has its moments. Director David Gordon Green (who also directed Franco and McBride in Pineapple Express) stages a few creditable action sequences, including ye olde carriage chase and a battle with a five-headed hydra. The gags involving wizards are often the most amusing, as when Fabious and Thadeous seek the counsel of a perverted old wizard played by a puppet a la The Dark Crystal. But since it’s the film’s m.o. to drive a joke into the ground, we later meet a horny minotaur.

Portman turns up along the quest’s long road, as a woman warrior subjected to ogling and advances from Thadeous. Luckily for Portman, the role’s not terribly memorable; Rasmus Hardiker, Toby Jones and Damian Lewis fair better as supporting archetypes (young squire, weasel, and knight, respectively), while McBride adds a surprisingly good British accent to his usual short-tempered, selfish jerk. Ultimately, the magic-and-monsters milieu isn’t enough when the jokes are half-baked, and thus Your Highness will only be a sure thing for high-flying moviegoers.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/9/2011

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

/content/films/3998/2.jpgUniversal's Blu-ray + Digital Copy special edition of Your Highness sports an impressive hi-def transfer in both the Theatrical Version and the Unrated Version: only a touch of digital noise here and there keeps this from getting perfect marks. The image is tight and crisp all around, with excellent detail, texture and depth; color is bold and rich, black level deep, and contrast spot-on. The Unrated Version runs a few minutes longer for a bit of extra raunch.

The bonus features—all presented in hi-def—kick off with an audio commentary with David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, James Franco, and Justin Theroux. Front-loaded with a video greeting, this track can be accessed with either version of the film. It's an energetic, witty, informative and entertaining roundtable discussion of the film's origins and production.

A fair amount of trims reside here: two "Alternate Scenes" (2:07, HD), five "Deleted Scenes" (8:15, HD), and four blu-exclusive "Extended Scenes" (15:13, HD), but only the deleted scenes offer much bang for the buck. There's also a "Gag Reel" (5:14, HD), always a welcome behind-the-scenes bonus.

"Damn You Gods: The Making of Your Highness" (30:14, HD) offers up behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with key crew members and most of the cast. It's well worth a look for fans of the movie and even casual renters.

Blu-exclusive bonus "Line-O-Rama" (4:03, HD) falls flat, but it's a look at some of the improvised and/or scripted alternate punchlines left on the cutting-room floor.

Blu-exclusive "Perverted Visions" (2:32, HD) comprises brief outtakes from the Great Wise Wizard scene and Blu-exclusive "A Vision of Leezar" (2:57, HD) is a few minutes of raw footage of Justin Theroux mugging for a special-effects shot.

The Blu-ray also enables BD-Live, Pocket BLU, and D-Box functionality.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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