Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) / Comedy-Adventure
MPAA - PG-13 for violence, sexual humor, brief nudity, and language
Running time: 104 min.
Cast: Cary Elwes, Roger Reese, RIchard Lewis, Amy Yasbeck, Mark Blankfield, Dave Chappelle, Tracey Ullman, Eric Allan Kramer, Matthew Porretta, Isaac Hayes, Megan Cavanagh, Dick Van Patten
Cameo: Dom Deluise, Patrick Stewart, Mel Brooks, Chuck McCann, Avery Schreiber, Danny McBride
Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Evan Chandler, J.D. Shapiro
Review published October 9, 2011
Mel Brooks comedies (History of the World: Part I, High Anxiety) have been mostly hit and miss, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights is no exception. In this film, brooks sends up the Robin Hood movies over the years, in particular Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was a big hit just a couple of years prior to this release. It's strictly a formula modern-day satire, with Brooks covering much of the comedic ground he has plowed through before (in true Robin Hood fashion, he robs from his own comedic riches by borrowing tired jokes from Young Frankenstein at least twice, with Prince Jon's roving mole hearkening to Igor's roving hump, and the perennial "walk this way" command that has characters aping the crazy gait of the speaker), only with less of the memorable gags and risky subtext he had been known for in his films of the early 1970s.
It is still off-color as all of his other films, and it does assume a familiarity with the Robin Hood legend, the well-known films based on it, and there are a number of dated references that probably will go far over the heads of current to future generations (Nike pumps and L'eggs pantyhose, to name but two now-dead fashion gags). Brooks bookends the film with a rap number by an all-Black dancer chorus unrelated to the rest of the story that, once you learn that Brooks wrote it himself, will explain why the delivery sounds like it had been rap as heard back in 1980 rather than 1993.
The storyline picks up with Robin of Loxley (Elwes, Days of Thunder) returning home after fighting and being imprisoned in the Crusades and, after making his escape, discovers that England is now ruled by the bad Prince John (Lewis, Leaving Las Vegas), whose army, led by the Sheriff of Rottingham (Rees, If Looks Could Kill), has usurped the throne while King Richard is away (Robin's own property has been usurped (his castle is, literally, taken away). He does retain his blind servant, Blinkin (Blankfield, Dracula Dead and Loving It), and a note left by his father with a key that will lead to the greatest treasure in the realm, though he doesn't know what that might be yet. Robin begins to mount his own fighting force of Merry Men to thwart the corrupt Sheriff and the neurotic King. That he might win the hand of the lovely Maid Marian (Yasbeck, Pretty Woman), who is encumbered by a wickedly impermeable chastity belt, only makes his adventure all the more imperative.
It is apparent by this point in Brooks' career as a writer that his sort of humor had become a bit old-fashioned, particularly in his use of bad puns to inject humor when and where he can. If changing the name from 'Nottingham' to 'Rottingham' inspires chuckles with you, this may be the most hilarious film you'll ever see. Not that the cast isn't game, as Elwes exudes the comic charisma he showed in that other tongue-in-cheek adventure film featuring Brooks, The Princess Bride, and the underrated Roger Rees is equally fun to watch as the hapless, verbally dyslexic sheriff.
There are laughs to be had, though your mileage will vary greatly based on your tolerance for slapstick, puns and sight gags. One that amused me is when Robin and his band fight the Sheriff's henchmen and the family servant, Blinkin, battles it out with a wooden post, which ends up whittled into nearly nothing. For every one of these, there are a handful of groaners -- one scene has a character give a speech that includes the line, "lend me your ears," to which the peasant audience rip off their ears and toss them at him. Another pun has Prince John graciously spare the lives of some annoying mimes, claiming (and spoofing the UNCF slogan), "A mime is a terrible thing to waste." Oof.
Brooks fans and younger viewers will likely find this more appealing than others, though the film is so innocuous that it's passable (at least for a while) for those just looking for something amusing and pleasant. It's a lesser work in his filmography, mostly due to the high amount of misses per hit, as well as the creative steam seemingly running out about halfway through, but for those clamoring for more after seeing his classics, there are worse choices for a 2-hour distraction. There are also many more better.
©2011 Vince Leo