2010 was a banner year for James Franco and Natalie Portman. Franco seemed to get his acting chops together and brought out both The Kids Are All Right and 127 Hours. Portman delivered an award-winning performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan after playing such genre characters like Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequels and Evey from V for Vendetta. So what’s the logical thing to do when you have two fantastic actors? Add Tropic Thunder and Eastbound and Down’s Danny McBride in a stoner spoof of high fantasy films and the fantasy genre.
The movie follows a pair of royal brothers Thadeus (played by McBride), a slacker, wimpy prince who’s more interesting in getting baked than nearly anything else, and Fabious (Franco) who is the overachieving, handsome brother that everyone loves, including his brother.
Fabious comes home triumphantly from his latest quest and saving the princess Bella Donna (Zooey Deschanel.) During their wedding day, they are attacked by a warlock named Leezar (Justin Theroux), who kidnaps her again to complete a ritual foretold in prophecy that, when completed, will summon a dragon. Now the brothers have a new quest: to save Bella Donna before the prophecy can be fulfilled. Along the way, they are molested by a puppet, meet the mysterious and powerful Isabel (Portman), who joins on their quest into a labyrinth to find a magic sword capable of slaying Leezar, and stop the prophecy from coming true before their kingdom is doomed.
The special effects of the movie are surprisingly good, the CG characters and monsters that the party face off against look well-done, and the fight scenes are well-choreographed. One fight with a hydra looks especially good. The film is pretty bloody, they use it in humorous way and it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but it is pretty gratuitous.
The cast doesn’t mesh quite as well as I would’ve liked. Franco seems stiff and overacts while Portman doesn’t really have enough of a character to really work with; she plays a convincing badass, nothing new for her. The casting really shines with McBride and Thoreux; while they aren’t on screen much together, they are the standouts of the film, delivering some of the funniest dialogue.
I found this film really funny. From beginning to end, I found myself and my girlfriend laughing; there is something to be said for that, but it doesn’t save the movie from being anything more than mediocre. On paper, this was a well-casted movie, but Portman and Franco were flat in roles where they could have a good bit of fun, but you get the impression that each is there just to relax from their Oscar-winning performances.
If you thought Willow or Lord of the Rings needed more pot and penis jokes, then you’re in luck – this is the movie for you. However, the phoned-in performances of Franco and Portman don’t help this movie rise any another stoner movie. My recommendation is to wait to rent this one — it’s not worth $10 per ticket, but it will make for a fine evening coming from Netflix.