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Lowbrow Laughs and High-Octane Thrills Punctuate a Supremely Silly Medieval Farce
on April 17, 2011
There is absolutely nothing of redeeming social value in this raunchy 2011 fantasy comedy, but there are some absurdly funny bits here and there to make it mildly infectious at times. Directed by David Gordon Green, who started in indie films (the acclaimed "George Washington") but last helmed the stoner farce Pineapple Express, the film relies heavily on scatological banter, lowbrow sight gags, and over-the-top CGI effects to punctuate the sophomoric screenplay by star Danny McBride and Ben Best. McBride stars as Prince Thadeous, the cowardly brother of the heroic Prince Fabious, who is about to marry the wide-eyed virgin Belladonna when lo and behold, the villainous wizard Leezar kidnaps her and traps her in a tower like Rapunzel.
Of course, that's the cue for Fabious to take Thadeous and his manservant Courtney to search for her with the aid of a band of knights who soon betray him. Although this is a medieval story with the appropriate sets and costumes, not much of the script is played to period. For the most part, the movie feels like a tribute to the likes of Mel Brooks, Cheech & Chong, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the garrulous McBride conveying his character's oversized bravado with tongue firmly in cheek. Meanwhile, James Franco plays Fabious with his slightly askew, surfer-dude manner intact, while Zooey Deschanel plays Belladonna with only a modicum of her usually ironic delivery. As Leezar, Justin Theroux has a field day with the wizard's grandiose manner and lascivious intensity.
Rasmus Hardiker manages to give dimension to the seemingly enfeebled Courtney who inexplicably remains devoted to Thadeous despite the constant humiliation he experiences. Midway through the film enters Natalie Portman as Isabel, a merciless, Xena-like warrior who doesn't suffer fools gladly. Playing the polar opposite of her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan, she is convincing in her predictably cardboard role as a fiery avenger, whether thwacking the heads of a hydra in a Thunderdome-type arena or beating Thadeous up without breaking a sweat. Even with all the high-octane scares and thrills, the creators never forget to surrender to their more puerile instincts like the minotaur's legacy around Thadeous's neck. And yes, I laughed every time I saw it.