One of my fondest childhood memories is that of Errol Flynn prancing and swashbuckling his way through Sherwood Forest as the titular Leninist, Robin Hood. He was gay in every sense of the word. And he was a blast, a mustachioed matinee hero of the highest order, full of humor, wit and debonair. Now comes Russell Crowe trying to not just fill Flynn’s tights, but to rip them apart at the seams with mucho macho bravado. And it’s a disaster.
One of my fondest childhood memories is that of Errol Flynn prancing and swashbuckling his way through Sherwood Forest as the titular Leninist, Robin Hood. He was gay in every sense of the word. And he was a blast, a mustachioed matinee hero of the highest order, full of humor, wit and debonair.
Now comes Russell Crowe trying to not just fill Flynn’s tights, but to rip them apart at the seams with mucho macho bravado. And it’s a disaster.
He’s all brawn, no brains in grunting his way through “Robin Hood,” a stupefying dull origin picture in which tedium wins out over charm at every turn. As disappointing as he is, though, he’s the least of Ridley Scott’s problems in a half-baked attempt to both reinvent the Robin Hood myth and make the pride of Nottingham relevant to our trying economic times.
Just about everything Scott endeavors falls flat, be it the discombobulated, quick-cut action scenes, Robin’s blah romance with a proto-feminist Lady (no longer Maid) Marion (Cate Blanchett), or the convoluted plot about Robin trying to rally the commoners “Braveheart”-style to thwart a Normandy-like invasion by those dirty, smelly French.
There’s very little, though, of the proverbial stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, unless you count Brian Helgeland’s destitute script, which steals from other violent, war-oriented blockbusters like the aforementioned “Braveheart” and Scott’s own “Gladiator.” In fact you may as well call Crowe’s Robin Longstrides, Maximus Decimus Meridius, given how closely he resembles his revenge-minded character from “Gladiator.” But instead of avenging the murder of his wife and child, he’s avenging the slaying of his father by the Crown.
Being it’s the year 1199, you could say he’s fixin’ to go medieval on the horny and hapless King John (a diminutive Oscar Isaac) and his many minions. Among them, the sire’s closest aide, Godfrey (a chrome-domed Mark Strong), who just happens to be a French double agent helping the Frogs plan a sneak attack on His Majesty’s home turf.
Not only does this allow Helgeland to rewrite British history, it gives Scott the opportunity to unleash an array of incomprehensible action bits in which combatants are poked, prodded and impaled with nary a drop of blood spilled in order to keep the film’s rating at a kid-friendly PG-13.
In between all the half-hearted fighting and chaste kirtle chasing, Helgeland and Scott shoehorn brief, underdeveloped introductions to Robin’s not-so-merry crew, including Friar Tuck (an excellent, but underused Mark Addy), Little John (Kevin Durand), and his future nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew MacFadyen), who is relegated to a bit part.
It all culminates in the thrilling unveiling of ... hold on to your seats ... the Magna Carta. Now that’s what I call excitement. It’s just one of many “What were they thinking?” moments in a movie that succeeds in its obvious intent to alienate.
While I cannot fault Scott and Helgeland’s desire to re-imagine such an oft-told tale as “Robin Hood,” there are certain core elements that are nonnegotiable, like humor, romance and derring-do. “Robin Hood,” by its very definition, should be fun, irreverent and rebellious; not weighed down by chain mail and armor.
Nor should it be the place to make overt political statements, as this “Robin Hood” does post haste with its Tea Party-courting asides to taxation without representation and peons footing hefty bills for unjust wars against Arabs.
While, granted, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are morally suspect, they are hardly The Crusades, as Scott contends. Besides, he already belabored the exact same point in the equally putrid “Kingdom of Heaven.”
That flick, of course, starred Orlando Bloom, an actor often compared to Errol Flynn in his looks and effete masculinity. And when you think about it, those Flynn-esque qualities might have made him a more apt choice for Robin, just as Crowe would have been better suited for “Kingdom of Heaven.”
Still, Crowe isn’t nearly as miscast as Blanchett, who, understandably, looks bored and disinterested. Which might explain why she brings zero heat and sex appeal to her scenes opposite Crowe, who has the look of a man who’d rather be tearing through ye olde brothel than playing house with the prissy widow Marion.
And had he torn through that brothel, the film certainly would have been more fun than watching Marion helping Robin remove his clanging chain mail. Yet that one scene says everything you need to know about a “Robin Hood” that’s noisy, leaden and clumsy. It’s neither erotic nor exciting, just overtaxing.
Al Alexander may be reached at email@example.com.
ROBIN HOOD (PG-13 for intense battle scenes and sexual situations.) Cast includes Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Mark Addy and Oscar Isaac. Directed by Ridley Scott. 1.5 stars out of 4.