Sunday, July 26, 2009

“Put him in the Tower of London! Make him part of the tour.”


RMWC finally delivers closure to my Robin Hood fixation in this entry (for the time being). Bringing up the rear is 1994’s Mel Brooks comedy Robin Hood: Men in Tights, a fairly obvious parody of Prince of Thieves from 1991. So, is it loving homage? Cutting parody? Long string of jokes about British accents and cross dressing? All of the above?



Plot
Robin of Loxley escapes from a Saracen prison in Jerusalem, swims all the way back to England (you heard me) and discovers that his home and lands have all been confiscated by the local authorities, who are also assholes to everybody else. Prince John and the Sheriff of Rottingham conspire to rule the kingdom, and Robin starts building a rebellion. Hilarity ensues for 104 minutes.

Characters
Robin of Loxley/Robin Hood: Cary Elwes channels the spirit (and tights) of Errol Flynn as a smug and swashbuckling Robin who’s not afraid of going for silly slapstick comedy. In appearance and attitude, he owes so much more to Errol Flynn than Kevin Costner, and I think that works in the movie’s favor. As a parody, an over-the-top template is usually a better way to go, and Elwes goes full burn. His arc is all about getting back to England and regaining honor for his family and brining the Sheriff and Prince down. Also, he wants to get in Marian's pants, no mean feat in this movie. Robin is my pick for the film’s badass for such modest feats as swimming all the way from Jerusalem to England, firing six arrows at the same time, and speaking with an English accent.

Ahchoo, son of Asneez: A young Dave Chappelle made his movie debut in this film. Obviously a parody of Morgan Freeman’s Azeem, he’s, shall we say, hip and with it, wearing pump sneakers and a backwards cap. Also, his father is Isaac Hayes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Robin’s primary sidekick and first recruit.

Blinkin: Mark Blankfield is the already-blind servant of the Loxley manor, and an almost purely comic relief character (compared to poor ol’ Duncan).

Little John: Eric Allan Kramer in probably my favorite Little John of the three movies reviewed here. Goofy, strong as an ox, a little bit dim, but a stout follower of Robin’s when he finally joins up. Gets some great dialog, and the obligatory river crossing fight scene is parodied brilliantly here.

Will Scarlett O’Hara: Matthew Poretta as the Georgia-born knife expert. Will is Little John’s best friend and displays quite a lot of competence in the film, but out of Robin’s five man band, he gets the least dialog and/or stuff to do.

Rabbi Tuckman: Mel Brooks as a traveling rabbi and circumcision expert. A fairly small role, but a very funny one.

Marian of Bagel: Amy Yasbeck as the chastity belted Maiden, a situation that, shall we say, chafes her. Her desire is to find a man who can unlock her…heart practically defines her, and she pretty much falls for Robin at first sight when he strides into Prince John’s banquet with a wild boar over his shoulders in exactly the same way as Flynn carried in a deer. Aside from that and a section where she escapes the castle to warn Robin of an attempt on his life, she is very much the pretty, pretty princess type of character. But you know what, I don’t mind. For some reason, I liked her the most out of the three Marians looked at. It’s an elusive reason that- oh, wait. Redhead. That’s why.

Broomhilde: Megan Cavanagh as the stout serving woman of Marian’s with a thick German accent. The guardian of Marian’s virginity, she performs much the same role as Dot Matrix in Spaceballs. Which, yes, we’ve seen before, but its different enough to be funny.

Prince John: Richard Lewis plays John as a New York Jew, which is rather funny when you think about it. He’s okay in the role, but nothing particularly great. Mostly he sits around and complains about how much everything goes wrong. He does get some great dialog with the Sheriff & Latrine.

Mervyn, the Sheriff of Rottingham: Roger Rees plays the unfortunately named sheriff. Hamming up the screen as Robin’s villainous foil, the Sheriff is a cross between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne, except with a dyslexic streak.

Latrine (nee Shithouse): Tracey Ullman hams up the screen as the wizened old crone with a huge crush on Rottingham.

Don Giovanni: Dom DeLouise in a small role as a ridiculously Brando-esque gangster from Jersey called in to help solve the Prince’s Robin Hood problem.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Mel Brooks is a very good director. Here’s an example: The Opening Credits feature a group of soldiers firing flaming arrows. It’s a simple shot, but the lighting of it is inventive and catching (and the punch line isn’t until the end of the credits, so the image gets a chance to stand out on its own). Anyway, the trend continues of the visuals serving as willing partners to the comedy. The colors are also nice and bright, and the movie visually owes much more to 1938 than to 1991.

Of course, being a Robin Hood film, there has to be a climactic fight scene, which is a step above the one in Prince of Thieves, but nowhere near as good as in the 1938 film. Still, Elwes can swing a sword around pretty well, tossing off one liners with flair and an impish glint in his eye.

Writing
The team of Mel Brooks, Evan Chandler and J. David Shapiro handled the script here, and again, it owes so much of the movie’s tone to 1938 as opposed to 1991. The plot is quick, the jokes fast and normally solid (except for a few pop culture duds that haven’t really aged well: pump shoes? Home Alone?) The only real complaint I suppose I have is that there isn’t any real threat in the film. You never get the feeling that Robin’s in danger or that there are any stakes involved (compare to Spaceballs’ Mega Maid scheme or the various parts in History of the World that require a miracle to get out of).

Sound
The score by Hummie Mann is good and entirely appropriate, but just doesn’t stand up next to Korngold and Kamen. The movie also features a lot of songs, from Marian’s song, to the “Men in Tights” song recycled from History of the World Part I to Robin’s Nelson Eddy-esque serenade to Marian to the Sherwood Rap, which interestingly enough, serves the same expository purpose as the title cards in the ‘38 & ‘91 versions.

Conclusion
I do enjoy this movie a lot. It’s a solid comedy, and in spite of its parodic nature, actually a solid Robin Hood tale that is sleekly paced. It may not be Mel Brooks at his finest, but there is nothing wrong with Mel Brooks in good form instead. Absolutely recommended.


1 comment:

Bill Scheitzach said...

Late to the party, but I just thought I'd mention that this was Mel Brooks' SECOND effort at skewering the Robin Hood legend.  Brooks was also responsible for the short-lived (only 13 episodes) 1975 ABC-TV series, "When Things Were Rotten", starring Richard Gautier as Robin, Misty Rowe as Marian, Ron Rifkin as Prince John, and Henry Polic as the Sheriff of Nottingham (Dick Van Patten and Bernie Koppel were in the supporting cast as Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale, respectively).

It's worth a look-see if you can find it; and it can be binge-watched in less than six hours.