We’re somewhere in the Middle Ages, somewhere in Europe, some time when
knights in shining armor could ride on quests to conquer dragons and a Cyclops (OK,
mixed mythology) and rescue fair damsels in distress, and everybody thought that
was normal. Danny McBride’s character, Thadeous, is the slacker brother left behind
while Fabious, played by an ever-smiling James Franco, wins his father’s favor and
the populace’s adulation with his gallant exploits. (We’ll ignore the awkward opening
bit about Thadeous escaping the wrath of a swarm of angry dwarves.) Naturally,
Thadeous resents the success of the dashing, handsome, athletic Fabious, and is in
such a funk about it all that he even refuses to attend Fabious’ wedding, where he was
supposed to be the best man. However, Fabious forgives him, because he has more
pressing matters: the evil Leezar (Justin Theroux) has used sorcery to take back his
captive princess, Belladonna (an incredibly underutilized Zooey Deschanel). The
rest of Fabious’ mighty men of valor have betrayed him, because they are in a funk
that they weren’t even invited to the wedding. (Was it supposed to be funny that
these macho-warriors had their panties all twisted in knots because of a social snub?
) So Thadeous and Fabious set out together, along with Thadeous’ page, Courtney
(Rasmus Hardiker), guided by their magic compass, which they promptly lose to
another wayfarer, Isabel (Natalie Portman).
Here, we pause to admire Natalie Portman, an actress fresh off a an Oscar-winning
performance for the dark and foreboding “Black Swan,” for her willingness to invest
herself in a silly and sordid farce, where scatological humor abounds, and some of
the juvenile leering is even directed at her. A true actor isn’t afraid to take chances
with a different kind of script, or play against type. Still, we are taken aback to see the
teenage queen of “Star Wars,” regal and aloof in her intergalactic senatorial position,
now descend into juvenile raunch humor. Unfortunately, Portman isn’t any funnier
than anyone else in this disastrous epic, but we do know that she is fearless in her
selection of diverse acting roles.
Yes, the occasional use of gutter language can be funny, if utilized sparingly and
inserted strategically. But its overuse merely serves as a poor cover-up for a lack of
originality. Perhaps if Danny McBride weren’t also the co-author, he wouldn’t have
had to switch gears and suddenly make himself heroic, thus losing any effectiveness
he might have developed as the lovable lazy cynic. The nudity here is as gratuitous
as the language, and after considerable overuse it is also ineffective as either erotic
or shocking. Yes, it’s supposed to be a sexier homage to Monty Python or even Mel
Brooks, but even they would have blanched at the way the preening superficiality
displaces all hope of significant humor.
Everyone associated with this flat-on-its-face failure should just hope it goes away
Ronald P. Salfen is co-pastor of United Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Texas.