Putting 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 fare 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 be a sure thing only for high-flying moviegoers.