Judge Christopher Kulik would only wear tights if he obtained the key to Maid Marion's chastity belt.
The legend had it coming!
Prince John: "And why do you think the people will listen to
Facts of the Case
It's back to Sherwood Forest for the umpteenth retelling of the Robin Hood legend, this time given the comic treatment courtesy of director Mel Brooks. Robin (Cary Elwes, Saw) returns from the Crusades only to find his family castle being taken away by H&R Blockhead for failure to pay taxes. To reclaim his property, Robin must confront the mole-faced Prince John (Richard Lewis, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and the sleazy Sherriff of Rottenham (Roger Rees, Garfield: A Tail Of Two Kitties). In retaliation, Robin decides to help the poor by robbing from the rich which, needless to say, doesn't sit well with the inept Prince.
Robin assembles a motley group of followers to assist him in his mission: blind but loyal Blinkin (Mark Blankfield, Dracula: Dead And Loving It); Moorish servant Asneeze (Isaac Hayes, South Park); hip brutha Achoo (Dave Chappelle, You've Got Mail); well-endowed-despite-his-name Little John (Eric Allan Kramer, Thor); and booze-loving Rabbi Tuchman (Brooks). Along the way, Robin falls in love with the ravishing Maid Marion (Amy Yasbeck, Wings), although she will only submit to the one man who holds the key to her chastity belt ("It's an Everlast!").
Most critics have conceded that Robin Hood: Men In Tights was, compared to Brooks' earlier films, fairly mediocre. Judge Clark Douglas wrote in his review of The Mel Brooks Collection (Blu-ray): "While a few arrows do hit their mark, never in any other film has it felt so much like Brooks is borrowing from himself." In addition, former Judge Ryan Keefer said "At the end of the day, this film feels a little bit like a quiet coda to an outstanding career more than anything else."
I couldn't agree more with these assessments.
When Robin Hood: Men In Tights came out in 1993, Brooks' spoof cycle was drawing to a close, as this was his second-to-last project. The gifted jokester scored major successes with The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein; three of the greatest comedies ever made. For some reason, however, Brooks stumbled with many of his subsequent efforts; most have been dismissed as disappointments by fans and critics alike. This applies especially to Robin Hood: Men In Tights, a dull and silly blunder peppered with sporadic laughs.
When I first caught Men In Tights as a rambunctious 13-year-old, I actually found much of it funny; after revisiting it on Blu-ray, I question my original reaction. I was surprised at how dumb many of the anachronistic gags are, as well as how many of them are simply lifted from the director's earlier gems. I certainly understand and appreciate what Brooks was trying to do in terms of spoofing not only the legend but also earlier Robin Hood features. Unfortunately, his tired jokes fall flat left and right.
One of my biggest criticisms with Robin Hood: Men In Tights is its unexciting and bland attempts at being a period picture. Granted, the setting isn't exactly relevant when all Brooks does is open up a bag of jokes, but most period comedies work best when they heighten the realism as much as possible. Take Monty Python And The Holy Grail or the opening sequence from Woody Allen's Everything You've Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask, where the medieval settings are exceptionally dirty and/or foggy, giving everything an authentic vibe. Robin Hood: Men In Tights, on the other hand, looks like a cheesy circus sideshow or an outdoor theatre production.
The story also lacks comic punch. Brooks more or less re-tells the Robin Hood legend while also using Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) as primary targets, particularly in terms of characterization. The journey of Sherwood's hero is awfully familiar by now, and Brooks never really gives the narrative any amusing twists or engaging surprises. It's a shame too, because the immortal tale has the potential for a funny bashing, especially since there are many arguments regarding how much of the story is actual truth. The film is driven by reference rather than reverence; you can see what Brooks is making fun of with his jokes, yet they all lack freshness and spontaneity. Brooks simply seems to be running out of ideas, as the material is both negligible and forgettable.
What's really sad is Robin Hood: Men In Tights feels more like a precursor to the recent Aaron Seltzer-Jason Friedberg debacles (i.e. Epic Movie, Meet The Spartans) than a film written and directed by Mel Brooks. Many of the jokes reek of early-'90s pop culture plugs, including Nike Pump-Up shoes and The Clapper, giving off the odor of an infomercial rather than a feature film. The injection of hip-hop music and Disney-esque love ballads are just plain out of place considering the setting; imagine "Knights Of The Round Table" from Holy Grail as a rap medley and you'll see where I'm getting at. If only Brooks had been more period-friendly in his approach, Men In Tights could have been a welcome return to form. Only flickers of the old Brooks are left in the margins.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The comedy may have stunk, yet I still came away from Men In Tights with a certain amount of affection. Kids will no doubt get a kick out of it because of how cheap and juvenile the gags are; I certainly did back in the day. The PG-13 rating is mostly due to sexual innuendos, many of which are alarmingly tame by today's standards. Teenage boys will no doubt find Yasbeck's Maid Marion a fetching creature, as Brooks doesn't hesitate to show her wearing only a chastity belt. For sure, she's no Madeline Kahn, but her legs are amazing.
At the very least, the actors seem to be having a jolly good time. Cary Elwes is ideally cast in the title role, considering he has experience in the art of spoof from Hot Shots as the defensive Navy officer whose girlfriend is stolen by Charlie Sheen. He's better when it comes to reaction than throwing out one-liners, but he's still fun to watch. Rees definitely has his moments as the Sherriff of Rottingham, and a young Dave Chappelle gives it his all as Achoo. It's also cool to see some of Brooks' old stock players—including Robert Ridgeley in his final role, reprising his Mad Hanger from Blazing Saddles—even if they aren't given much to do. Still, my vote for the funniest character is Latrine, brilliantly played by Ullman with an abundance of nasty glee. The comedienne has been given few film roles over the years (her best turn is in John Water's A Dirty Shame), and she's the only one here to be above average in the funny department.
Fox delivers a mostly satisfactory Blu-ray. Men In Tights inert cinematography is given a not bad HD polish; the 1.85:1 non-anamorphic, 50GB dual layer print boasts reasonably bright colors and very little grain. The polish is adequate and clean, even if it feels like another slight upgrade from the old DVD. The score and songs are rendered well in the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track; all are free of pops and echoes. Background and environmental noise are appropriately subdued, and the center channel emits the dialogue in crystal clear fashion. Additional surround tracks are available in English, French, and Spanish; optional subtitles are provided in English SDH and Spanish.
Extras include two featurettes and a feature-length commentary by Brooks. The first featurette ("Funny Men In Tights: Three Generations of Comedy") is presented in HD and runs almost 14 minutes while the second ("The Legend Had It Coming") is in standard def and runs 26 minutes. Both pieces contain interviews by the cast and crew, all offering plenty of production info and what it's like to work with Brooks. The latter featurette is more promotional in nature than the former, but both are worth watching at least once. The commentary, on the other hand, runs hot and cold; Brooks can be an entertaining speaker and, to be fair, he delivers some interesting stories. However, he also tends to simply explain his jokes when they are extraordinarily obvious anyway. Fox also includes an isolated score track by composer Hummie Mann.
Brooks' fans will want to check out Robin Hood: Men In Tights, although most are sure to agree with the general consensus on its tepidness. Unless you loved this as a kid and are curious to see how it holds up, it isn't worth the bother. This also applies to the Blu-ray presentation; it's amiable, but hardly worth the upgrade.
Guilty, but Brooks and his merry men are given a reduced sentence for good intentions. Fox is free to go for its Blu-ray presentation, even if it falls short as a replacement to the DVD.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2010 Christopher Kulik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.