Being a critic means trusting your instincts, even when they contradict popular opinion. It also requires to have a unique voice in an endless landscape of people sharing opinions. While watching the latest Hollywood butchering of the classic Robin Hood story, I heard a little voice in my head: a goofy Adam Sandler saying, “Here’s a nice piece of shit.” I’m not sure if Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert would have used a “Billy Madison” reference to start a review, but it was the prevailing thought rattling around my cerebellum as I watched the new “Robin Hood.”
The second recurring thought was how much I love Jamie Foxx, even though he is consistently in terrible movies. He’s a fantastic and charismatic presence who should be in far better films. Currently, he’s like a Hall of Fame-quality wide receiver getting traded back and forth between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Doesn’t matter how good you are when the entire enterprise is engineered for failure.
It’s a damn shame, too, because there’s a lot of potential hiding underneath the visible stink lines emanating from this particular turd. It has a charismatic leader, “Kingsmen”’s Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx as his partner in crime, Little John, and a wonderfully villainous Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham. The problems all stem from the creative side, including woeful writing, seizure-inducing editing and an overall story that brings almost nothing new to the equation.
For folks unfamiliar with such an oft-adapted tale of feats of daring do, Robin of Loxley leaves the posh life as a lord for the brutal frontier of the Third Crusade, where the God-fearing Christians once again try to bring civility to the heretics of the world and fail miserably. After becoming disenchanted with the horrors of armed conflict, he returns home to find his homeland has been taken over by power-hungry despots posing as pious politicians. Robin and Little John decide they need to start yanking on the purse strings of the sheriff’s empire until it hurts. Thankfully, both Robin and Little John are freaking ninjas who can shoot arrows with pinpoint accuracy and fly through the air with the greatest of ease. A lot of the movie feels inspired by the massive popularity of superhero films that have flooded the marketplace over the last decade.
The biggest problem with “Robin Hood” is how completely devoid it is of cheesy goodness. The whole enterprise is taken way too seriously. It reminded me of last year’s woeful take on the Arthurian story, “Legend of the Sword,” another movie that could have benefitted from a healthy dose of scenery-chewing and melodrama.
For example, let’s look at the Sheriff of Nottingham character. The right actor can make it something special, like the late great Alan Rickman in 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Rickman was so relentlessly over-the-top and mercilessly evil, audiences couldn’t help but smile every time he’s on screen. Mendelsohn is so deadpan and joyless that the character never pops.
While I loathed the writing and dialogue, the film looks even worse than it sounds. Everything looks like it was filmed on a dimly lit soundstage. The production design and costumes look like something conceived by a community theatre artistic director, strung out on prescription pills with a penchant for pleather. His flat cinematography never gives the incredibly fake looking world any sense of scope. The Middle Ages never looked so polished or uninspired. I’m not sure why Hollywood keeps making dull-ass adaptations of Robin Hood, King Arthur and Tarzan. The stories have been told a dozen times before in far more interesting and entertaining ways.
How about some new takes on these old stories: “Robin Hood in Outer Space.” “King Arthur of the Apocalypse.” “Tarzan of the Concrete Jungle.” Anything that brings an ounce of originality to the completely uninspired adaptations. The only thing this “Robin Hood” has successfully stolen is two hours of my life.