Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

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4 out of 10

Might be good for laughs in rowdy groups. Gleefully awful and fun at first, but bogs down when it tries to get serious. Agony-inducing accents; bad script delivered badly; cheesy music; dragged-out ending.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Here's the 411: Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner, with an abysmal and intermittent English accent), first seen with Warrant-video hair and obviously fake beard in a prison in Jerusalem, manages to escape with Azeem (Morgan Freeman, with a similarly abysmal and intermittent Moorish accent) and flee home to England, where he joins up with the merry men in Nottingham, woos and wins the spunky Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, who of all the cast probably retains the most dignity), frees England from the vile Sherriff of Nottingham (a shamelessly over-the-top Alan Rickman), etc., etc. There's other junk thrown in about a long-lost half brother (Christian Slater, with yet another abysmal English accent), a baby delivered by c-section, blah blah blah.

I gave this one a look for the first time since I saw it in a theater in Canada (long story) back when it first came out. I don't remember it being as much fun as it was this time...for the first few minutes, at least. Dig the crazy KKK-like guys who come to get Lord Locksley! Their leader actually says--no kidding here: "Join us. Join us...or die!" (Really!) Further check out Nottingham's cousin (Michael Wincott), who sounds like a character from the Disney ride Pirates of the Caribbean. Arrr, matey! See the little kid run up a tree (yay!), and the bad guys who are coming to get him (boo!) try to solve that by one of them getting out an ax...never mind that the trunk looks three or four feet in diameter. Good thinking. Better yet, consider Rickman's Tim Curry-esqe turn as Nottingham (emphasis on the ham). I was in hysterics when he first went to visit the whiny, cackling witch (is that Shelley Long?) in her cave that apparently comes equipped with smoke machines and colored stage lights. We're back to the Warrant video again! (Warrant was a miserable early 1990s glam metal band sporting poofy, teased hair and spandex togs, for those who have the good fortune of not being familiar with that genre.) In many, many ways the movie starts out hilariously bad, in a good way--it doesn't even matter that the accents are bad! One ridiculous event follows hard on another, until, unfortunately...

Sadly, the movie compromises its tone of campy self-parody and tries to be...well, I'm not sure exactly, but I think they were gunning for romantic and dramatic. Probably heroic as well, judging by the stately Michael Kamen score. What is that kind of music doing in a schlock-fest like this? Was director Kevin Reynolds (who is also to blame for another overblown Costner 'epic,' Waterworld) trying to add respectability to the proceedings? A silly metal soundtrack would have fit the tone much better. But the trying-to-be-epic score apparently wasn't ill-conceived enough. In the second half of the movie, in which piled-on romantic and dramatic contrivances drag the whole mess down, we get treated to things like the Kamenization of the movie's love theme (which subsequently found its way into countless early-90s weddings), Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)," which swells up in the background after Marian tells Robin, "I'll do it for you" (Wow--creative script!). Chee-ee-eesy, folks. The movie tries harder and harder to be epic as it goes along, and I thought the 2-hour, 18-minute running time made it at least 45 minutes too long. My wife and I were enjoying laughing at it until the last hour, which seemed to drag on like the last hour of work on Friday. Oh yeah, one last thing: what makes any human being think that any other human being needs to see a nude shot of Kevin Costner's posterior?

The movie mostly looked good, and had some neat visuals. Take, for instance, the variations on Robin shooting arrows. First it's Arrow-Cam! Other times we follow the arrow from a side view; at one point his burning arrow flies at the camera in nifty slo-mo (the most famous image of the movie). The scenery is great (on location in England and some in France). The way people are filmed so close up that they distort a bit--kind of like a fisheye lens--and the frenetic motion seemed to fit the tone of the first hour, but made me carsick by the second half.

It bewilders me to think that Mr. Reynolds would go on from this mess to direct perhaps the best modern update of an old swashbuckling-type adventure, The Count of Monte Cristo. A great example of a director still using the same visual and thematic style that failed him before, but somehow having it all come together.

Worth renting? Maybe for laffs.
Worth buying? Only for the very cheesy at heart.
Suitable for kids? I think so.
Year: 1991
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Running Time: 143 minutes
Rated PG-13, probably for violence, some language, adult themes, and a posterior shot.

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Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

Originally written July 20, 2001.

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