Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) / Adventure-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexuality, brief nudity and language
Running time: 143 min. (extended edition runs 155 min.)

Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater, Michael McShane, Brian Blessed, Michael Wincott, Nick Brimble, Sean Connery (cameo)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay: Pen Densham, John Watson

Review published August 18, 2007

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a more modern telling of the Robin Hood legend, with the 1990s penchant for dark tones, excessive violence, rampant innuendo, and a campy, juvenile attitude toward adventure.  A huge hit at the time of its release (only Terminator 2 grossed more in 1991), it's a film that proved popular for its era, but over time, it hasn't exactly weathered as well as other classic Robin Hood adventures. 

Prince of Thieves is burdened by odd casting decisions all around.  Starting with the most obvious, Costner (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham) is just outright goofy as Robin, with his shaggy mullet and odd speech patterns, he might be believable riding a horse or using a bow, but it's difficult to buy him in the part whenever he has to utter a line.  Morgan Freeman (Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption), normally money in the bank in the acting department, plays a faithful companion who is fairly one-note, and his inability to nail the accent just about makes him seem as artificial as Costner as a character, although at least it is consistent.  Slater (The Wizard, Heathers) looks like he traveled back in time fresh out of a modern day hair salon,  Then there are two actors who seem like they are treating the same material different ways, with Mastrantonio (Scarface, Consenting Adults) playing everything far too seriously, and Alan Rickman (Die Hard, Dogma) in full snarling, over-the-top camp mode, going for audacious laughs.  Trouble is, they have most of their scenes together, never meshing in the slightest.

The plot itself sees Robin busting out of prison, saving the life of a Moor named Azeem, who vows to stay with him until he can return the favor.  Robin returns home to find it destroyed, and the surrounding area claimed to be now owned by the deadly Sheriff of Nottingham, who has been busy trying to usurp power for himself while King Richard the Lionheart is dealing with the Crusades.  While escaping the Sheriff's men, Robin flees through Sherwood Forest, where he hooks up with a band of men yearning to be free men once again, needing a champion like Robin to take up the cause against the rampant tyranny.  Meanwhile, Robin carries a torch for the lovely Maid Marian, but the Sheriff also has his eyes upon her, leading to an epic confrontation for life, love and liberty for all involved.

Director Kevin Reynolds' (Waterworld, The Count of Monte Cristo) approach to the Robin Hood legend appears to be that of never taking it seriously, either as a story or as a movie.  It is merely a springboard for some dazzling stunts, violence, and silly comedy, while the rest of it is kept strictly on the level of a skimpy comic book.  The look of the film is dark, perhaps too dark, as the cinematography rarely allows for us to take in the sights and sounds,  Actors are framed closer than normal, going for many extreme close-ups, perhaps to give the mood of immediacy, but it comes off making the tone seem rather strange.  The fight scenes are many, and yet they aren't terribly exciting, especially given that the one thing most Robin Hood adventures take pride in, the well-choreographed hand-to-hand combat, is unconvincing and sloppy throughout.  A swordfight between Robin and the Sheriff late in the film is too laughably executed to take seriously.

The only real bright spot in this disappointing adventure comes from the rich score by Michael Kamen (Die Hard, X-Men), who almost single-handedly saves the film from completely falling apart by adding the proper music to set each scene.  With such inconsistency in deliver, from comedy to romance to deadly action, it's not easy to pull off, but he manages to make many scenes feel alternately romantic or exciting with his musical tones.

There is an audience for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves out there to be sure, primarily consisting of the crowd that likes escapist adventures told with comic book depth, not serious enough to think too hard, but engaging enough to overcome its problems with energy.  I'll admit, there is a certain comfort in seeing such an unpretentious Robin Hood, with its archetypical heroes and villains, easily-understood conflicts, and predictable pay-offs.  Reynolds never, not for a moment, took the film seriously, playing to the crowd that likes to cheer for the hero and hiss at the villain in true melodramatic fashion.  However, it would have been nice to see similar subject matter with a cast of actors more suitable to their parts, some crisper writing, and less bleak, claustrophobic direction.  It works as an action flick well enough, I suppose, and yet, the wince-inducing qualities never allow the spirit of adventure to rise above so-so fare.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo