Saturday, September 19, 2009

REVIEW: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Extended edition? That's okay. I'll watch the movie on fast-forward to compensate.

Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

  • ‘90s historical action-adventure movie.
  • Based on iconic medieval English heroes who might or might not have been real, but almost certainly bore little resemblance to the legends they inspired.
  • Stars an A-list American actor who can’t for the life of him figure out a British accent, and undermines him further by surrounding him with authentic Brits.
  • Also stars Sean Connery as an English king with a Scottish accent, which is the kind of thing that probably starts soccer riots.
  • Features a good actor playing the villain as a wild-eyed madman that even the United Nations would decide is probably not someone to lead a human rights conference.
  • Godawful soundtrack written under the false belief that a trumpet fanfare actually stirs emotions in people outside a college football game.

"Excuse me. I need to find a manger and I wish to get it over with."

That’s right. If King Arthur had his First Knight, then I guess Robin Hood was the First Thief. It’s really uncanny how similar these movies are. For the most part, you could just read my review of that film, just replacing ‘Richard Gere‘ with ‘Kevin Costner.’ But if I had to watch this mess, then you at least have to read about it.

"Dude, I'm doing Shakespeare now! Loth lo hark onward yea yonder Denmark! This is awesome!"

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starts in Jerusalem of all places, with Robin of Locksley (Costner, playing a British knight as convincingly as he played a web-fingered, urine-swilling aqua-man) imprisoned during the Third Crusade by Saladin’s forces. Trapped in a dungeon where his fellow crusaders are being tortured and executed, Robin overpowers the guards, but in order to escape alive, he’ll need to release and accept the help of a Moorish prisoner, Azeem (Morgan Freeman). Together, they ditch the dungeon and flee to England; Azeem goes along because he apparently has no better place to be than a land full of dudes at war with his people, and Robin decides that heading home during a war definitely does not constitute desertion.

"Who art thou, stranger, who can squish flies with such heroic accuracy and vigor?"

Before we go on, a short digression about accents. I think Americans are to be commended for their acceptance of Brits, Scots, Irishmen, and Australians playing classic American characters like a Revolutionary war hero (Mel Gibson in The Patriot); Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the Joker (Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight); and that most distinctly American of roles: a crazy and evil oil baron (Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood). We’re fine with that because we like good, charismatic actors, because we’re a nation of immigrants, and because they do the damned accents. But with the shoe on the other foot, Kevin Costner attempts a British accent mainly by speaking all his lines about 10% more deliberately than he would for any of his baseball player/surfer dude/mailman/gill-man characters. I wouldn’t think he’s attempting an accent at all, except that every once in a while, he seems to mute an ’r’ or use a soft ’a.’ It’s very strange, although with Christian Slater and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (and Sean Connery, eventually, for that matter) also in the cast, it wouldn’t be right to completely single out Costner for unconvincing British accents, and maybe the clash of accents is even semi-intentional, to vilify those who are clearly British. Whatever. Suffice to say that Costner should never be allowed to play Brits or New Englanders ever again. I should also mention the great Morgan Freeman, who despite his obvious talents, plays a Moor by imitating the voice of an Egyptian professor in a 1930s Mummy movie, who warns the heroes of the terrible curse they’ve fallen under.

So this is the Lady Gaga I've heard the kids talk about so much lately.

Returning to England, they find that Robin’s father, Lord Locksley (Brian Blessed) has been deposed and murdered by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman), who’s collaborated with the Bishop of Hereford (Harold Innocent; “innocent,” “blessed,” and “freeman”?; is there some kind of uber-irony going on with the names here?) and the witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). Yes, this movie has a witch secretly guiding the twitchy usurper. That’s right, suck it Shakespeare; you lifted all your plot devices from an earlier story, even if it took 800 years and a couple of bonehead screenwriters to properly explore that aspect of the Robin Hood legend. Rickman plays the Sheriff as the typical ’90s white guy villain: a dude who amasses influence and loyalty from his lackeys through sheer sleaziness, but who possesses no charisma, intelligence, or courage that you might think would be required for even foot soldiers to put their lives on the line for him.

"Hey, stranger."

As Robin and Azeem bumble around the English countryside and make simple work of the Sheriff’s minions, they find help from Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). It’s clear why Mastrantonio was cast as Marian: she’s not British and marginally attractive at best. She fits in with her co-stars quite well. And they might as well have just hired Michelle Yeoh for all it matters, since her first appearance is as a ninja. Yes, a ninja. When Robin enters her home, checking whether his childhood friend is all right, she’s all ready to go in a full-body ninja costume, before our brave hero outduels her and the two realize who each other are. But then the Sheriff’s men ride in, and we get a wacky scene where Azeem hands Robin a telescope and sighs as Robin gets confused and thinks that the horses are right in his face. Is it highly improbable that Robin would be quite so stupid as to think that the telescope was magically warping time and space? Yes, but it gives Azeem another opportunity to urinate all over Western European culture, so it’s apparently a worthy joke before the two of them (plus an old blind guy whom I’ve exorcised from the story for the sake of keeping this review a tolerable length) scuttle off into the woods.

"I find thee enchanting, my dear. Thou art almost as feminine as I."

There, they get ambushed by a group of rogues including Little John (Nick Brimble), his young son Wulf (Daniel Newman), and Will Scarlet (that most smashingly British of all the Queen Mum’s jolly right subjects, Christian Slater). While the rogues are initially hostile, this is a great opportunity for Robin, since he has nearly all the Merry Men--save Friar Tuck, who will be introduced later so that we have enough time to properly introduce his lovable traits of constant drunkenness and hatred of Muslims--readily assembled for him. Nope, no real recruitment process or anything. He just has to beat Little John in a stick fight in the river, and all of a sudden he’s the Prince of Frickin’ Thieves.

"Hark, Wendy! Johnny doth approach, verily!"

With all the familiar characters and plot elements in place (to go along with all the new ones the screenwriters made up), the movie shows a few scenes of Robin and his men performing random derring-do against the Sheriff’s men while generic “triumphant ’90s music” swells. The one hijacked caravan that successfully fights back is Maid Marian’s (she‘s fortunate enough to get the Laurel and Hardy of Sherwood Forest), and she convinces the attackers to lead her back to Robin’s tree house village in the woods. Yes, Robin Hood and his merry men live in Sherwood Forest in tree houses, just like the Swiss Frickin’ Family Robinson. You’d think that the advantage for thieves of living in the forest is that you’re kind of mobile, not anchored to a mess of rope bridges and unnecessarily elaborate water-hauling pulley systems. Hey, back in the middle ages, it would have been nice enough to bring back paved roads and working aqueducts, but they’re about half a step away from having monkey butlers and cocoanut radios. Although apparently, for all their treehouse technology, the Europeans had not yet invented the “No Girls Allowed” rule.

"Oh, Aunt Bertha, thy ashen remains possesseth a most pleasant and smoky flavor!"

Marian hangs around with Robin for a while, suddenly getting all googly-eyed at him, realizing that she’s in love with the charming rebel. For us, this means we get about 10 or 15 minutes of Robin and his men doing nothing: they dance, they deliver a baby, they dance again. And then she’s off again back to the real world, where the Sheriff is trying to marry her, because he cannot bear to live without marrying one among the 52% most beautiful women in England. But when the blind old man tries to ride a horse into the forest to warn Robin, he inadvertently gets his ass tracked. Duh. Maybe there’s a reason we don’t generally advise blind people to ride horses in dangerous situations. In any event, this allows the Sheriff and his terrifying new Celtic mercenaries--they fight just as incompetently as anyone, but they wear antlers and crap, so they’re scary--assault the treehouses. This is truly the nadir for the heroes, as hundreds… well, dozens… well, ones of characters who we don’t know fall courageously in battle. But even amidst the carnage, Gimli, er, Little John manages to rescue his wife as the Sheriff’s men start setting the trees ablaze. Atop the trees, they run off down a rope ladder, and it makes one wonder just how extensive a network of treehouses these people have if a man and his wife, carrying their infant son, can escape across a bridge at the treeline from swarms of enemies on the ground. They must be some kinda elven Vietcong or something’.

"Nope, sorry, you're too late. We did Dungeons and Dragons a few reviews ago."

I’m sorry, but I’m running out of gas here. This movie certainly has a lot of action, but it’s so generic that it’s hard to describe. Suffice to say that after Christian Slater pulls his, “I’m your friend! I’m a traitor! I’m your long-lost-half-brother!” schtick on Robin Hood, the gang all gets back together for one last big bash. They enter the castle courtyard disguised in long robes and hoods, and fortunately, the guards don’t notice the increased population of cautiously-moving Gregorian monks and plague victims. Suffice to say that the final battle--to rescue several of Robin’s captured men from hanging, and more importantly, Maid Marian from a sham marriage--involves several diverse elements:

  • Alan Rickman reciting lines like he’s playing a drunk Hans Gruber at 4 in the morning (for both Hans and Alan).
  • Robin waiting until his people are actually hanging until he shoots out the rope with an arrow… on the second try. Hey Robin, your people are calling. The parts of their bodies that are not a completely broken neck thank you for saving them.
  • People continuing to light their arrowheads on fire, thus guaranteeing another hundred or so years of historical action movies making a big deal of this practice.
  • Beer barrels exploding like Sears washing machines after being struck by said flaming arrows. The likelihood of this happening? Low enough that I doubt even the Mythbusters would humor the possibility for the sake of filling up 20 minutes of show time.

That thar solar eclipse is kinda close this year.

Of course, once we have the big battle with all the good guys against all the bad guys, we need to scale down to a fight involving the hero and lead villain while the heroine watches on. In this case, Robin races against time to stop the Sheriff from marrying Marian. It’s very important to the Sheriff that he marry Marian, because according to the witch, legends say that “he who marries the gaunt American maiden shall be invincible against the unstoppable peasant revolt.” Or something like that. You’ve got to admire someone who takes marriage so seriously. Naturally, Robin manages to burst in through the tower window just in time to interrupt the ceremony, and we get a rousing swordfight between Robin and the Sheriff. And apparently Robin is as good with a sword in this version of the story as he is with a bow, because he struggles against the Sheriff, who’s spent the duration of the movie bickering with an old hag and muttering vague orders. But let me end the suspense: this is not Arlington Road. The good guys win. But with great sacrifice. Oh, wait. No, there really wasn’t. I think the blind guy might have died, but I wasn’t really paying attention. The Sheriff really sucked at his job.

"See? THIS is why we had the 'No Girls Allowed' rule for so long! Damn ACLU!"

And since this movie can only be classified as a comedy, there’s only one way to end it: with a wedding. Robin and Marian tie the knot, destined to produce many early-’90s children. But wait, we have a surprise guest, arriving just before the ceremony is sealed! Why, it’s none other than King Richard the Lionheart (Sean Connery), returning from war! He’s apparently not at all ticked at Robin for abandoning the Crusades once he escaped the prison in Jerusalem. No, he’s rather happy that Robin has stopped the Sheriff from rising further and taking control of England. Dude, I think Perez Hilton would have been more convincing as a man capable of conquering England. Maybe the Sheriff would have gotten traction by pointing out that the king was a Scot and the populist hero was a Californian.

If somebody says, "There can be only one!" I quit.

And with the credits rolling, we’ve got one more arrowhead to the balls for the audience: the debut of the song “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams. Yes, Bryan Adams was assigned to write a theme song for an adventure movie about one of England’s greatest legendary heroes, and this was the song he came up with. At least when Aerosmith did the theme song for Armageddon, the band had the word “Aero” in its name, which was vaguely fitting. And that Celine Dion song fittingly made me want to drown after hearing it 800 times in one year of high school. But this… Ugh.

See, I told you that Sean Connery shows up at the end.

After watching this movie, I have two conclusions: I’m relatively poor, and Kevin Costner is very rich. I’ll let you judge who robbed whom.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009