ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993)
BEFORE WE BEGIN - The “Best line” section, or whatever I replace it with is out here. Looking at my notes, I see that it’s almost all about individual lines, jokes, and bits. So I’ll do a special edition blog later, where I go into detail on some bits. Until then, let me tide you over with… “I’m Little John! But don’t let my name fool you. In real life, I’m actually very big.”
(Don't ask me, ask them.)
PLOT - Robert of Loxley is trapped in the Holy Land, as is so often the case with him. He escapes his confines with the aid of another prisoner, and returns to England, where he finds the land under tyranny, and joins with a motley crew of outlaws to fight for justice. Okay, now that I’ve typed that, I can watch the movie. Ostensibly, this was to be a parody of Prince of Thieves, but the decision was wisely made to expand it and make it more of a parody off Robin Hood’s legend in general. We get, the archery contest with split arrow, a fight on a bridge, everyone wanting to marry Marian, Robin crashing a party, a big fight in a tower, a public hanging averted, and all the rest of the traditional business. I’m fine with that. A movie that solely parodies another movie is rarely good. Speaking of good things that are rare…
THE GOOD - Okay, as much as I’m about to rag on the humor in this movie, it does have several jokes that made me laugh out loud. Sadly, there’s maybe six that weren’t ruined by the pacing afterwards. Oh, but there’s also a lot of really good actors! Sadly, they have awful lines and direction. All right, all right, let’s see, the good… The good… Nostalgia?
THE BAD - Mel Brooks got old. That’s a bad thing. Whereas he was once a master of timing, wordplay, slapstick, and parody, all of those skills had rusted and atrophied by the time he made this movie. I suppose we all should have seen it coming when he decided to make a Star Wars parody in 1987, when it was already old, but not yet retro. (He fares slightly better here, Prince of Thieves being only two years old at this point.) Spaceballs also showed Brooks really running hard into the kind of comedy Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker (ZAZ) mastered with Airplane!. But that kind of comedy takes a special mind, and amazing talent, and a lot of luck to do well, and Brooks hasn’t got the knack.
There’s a constant feeling like all the jokes run one line too long, and the camera is kept running for a few seconds after it should have stopped. It’s a constant cycle of tell a joke, explain a joke, stand around awkwardly. You can’t pause for laughs in a movie, it doesn’t work like that. ZAZ knew that if you’re going to do stupid, off-the-wall humor, it needs to come hard and fast. Keep the audience laughing so hard they miss half the jokes, and they’ll buy tickets for a second showing. Wait for them to finish laughing, and THEY WON’T BE LAUGHING BECAUSE YOUR PACING SUCKS, MEL BROOKS.
THE OTHERWISE WORTHY OF MENTION - There’s a LOT of jokes from old Mel Brooks movies in this one. I can’t really complain, because they’re still funny, and he’s always done it. There’s just so damn many of them this time. “It’s good to be the king”, “Walk this way”, moving deformity, sequel jokes, even an entire character. The only really awful one is when a character looks straight at the camera, directly mentions Blazing Saddles, and waggles his eyebrows. But that’s near the end, and I was so desensitized to that shit already by that point. Some people got offended by the prison in this movie, both for mocking Arabs and torture. But the torture jokes are no worse than The Wizard of Id, and the Arab jokes are incredibly mild. Plus, the book I read complaining about Arab stereotypes cited Prince of Thieves as an example of positive images. Yeah, one nice guy played by an African-American in the middle of a swarm of swarthy Semitic Saracen swine does not a positive image make, BOOK. Oh, and it’s a… musical? There’s four very short songs in it, at least. One is sung by Marian, and is very short, only one verse. One is sung by Robin to Marian, and is obviously dubbed, which is the big joke. One is an expository rap intecut with Hey Nonny Nonnys and ballet, which gets the movie off to deceptively promising start. And one is “Men in Tights”, which you all know anyway.
The Elephant Man
The Producers (musical)
MUCH - None, really. There’s the saved-from-poachers lad. He makes a really labored and awful and dated Home Alone joke. Yes, even by this movie’s standards. It’s not really based on anything other than it’s a thing a young kid can say that people will recognize. Had the movie been ten years later, the kid would have said “I see dead people”. It’s a Seltzerberg level joke, and I expect better from even ‘90s Mel.
MARIAN - She reeeally doesn’t make a huge impact, I’m sorry to say. Writing female characters has never been Mel Brook’s strong suit. And since by this point comedy wasn’t, either, Marian comes off pretty badly here, with not much more than a sunny outlook, an annoying voice, and some really ugly dresses. I guess if I wanted to, I could say that this was parody of how Marian tends to be underwritten romantic interest in Robin Hood movies in general and Prince of Thieves in particular, but that would be giving the movie too much credit. She wears a steel chastity belt, awaiting for the man who holds the key to unlock it. I could say that this was parody of the female lead‘s role in fantasy literature and other popular fiction as a prize to be won, but that would be giving the movie too much credit. She also has big red curly hair, and let’s just say that’s a Robin of Sherwood reference. Hey, they need SOME credit.
OTHER MERRY MEN - Well, Lady Sassmouth shows up, carrying a German accent and an obsession with maintaing Marian’s virginity, which is basically what she does anyway, and she’s usually the comic relief, so there’s not much change here. The clearest reference to O’Thieves here is in the two extra Merry Men. One of them, Blinken, is awesome. As you may recall, if you’ve been here since the beginning, Robin had a servant in PoT by the name of Duncan, who had been blinded by Nottingham’s men. Duncan’s malady was gruesome and graphic and he was a sad, frail old man. Which made the moments they played it for comedy, which were many, kind of awkward and uncomfortable. But Blinken plays it, naturally, with no pathos whatsoever, and is fantastic. Sure, the blind jokes are as hacky as the rest of the humor in this film, but they work in that idiom. My favorite, after he catches an arrow in midair: (John: “That was amazing!” Blinken: “I heard it coming a mile away.” Robin: “Well done, Blinken.” Blinken: “Pardon? Who’s talking?”) Not to mention that he’s the camp’s night watchman. (Robin: “What are you doing?“ Blinken: “… Guessing?“ And the fact that he tends to look in the wrong direction when people touch him.
The other is Achoo, played by… Achoo is played by… I can’t say it. He’s way WAY too good of a comedian to be here, and his comedy is so antithetical to the sort of jokes he’s forced to tell that it makes his lines seem forced and… Okay, Brian, deal with it. He was young, it was a good paycheck, and Brooks clearly recognized his ability. And if it wasn’t for embarrassing early roles of stars, we wouldn’t have Mazes and Monsters…
And sadly, there’s not much indication of the brilliant satirist we all know from his eponymous Comedy Central show. The character is woefully written. It seems Mel Brooks wanted to parody ‘urban’ culture, and the best he could do was “What do the young people do these days? Air pumps on their sneakers! That’s it!” Id like to say Chappelle’s natural comedic ability shines through the material, but sadly, it doesn’t. While it would be nice to think of someone of his caliber being able to spin shit into gold, it turns out that when he’s given uninspiring material, he’s only about as good as the average Wayans. Actually, Marlon Wayans is better at excising laughs from bad writing, Would have been nice to see him in this. Well, now that I’ve admitted I’d rather see Marlon Wayans than Dave Chappelle in a role, I think I need to go slam my ears in the oven door.
COMING UP NEXT - All your favorite characters! Rhi Bran Hwd! Little Iwan! And Friar Aethelfrith! Come and see the timeless legend get all Welshed-up by a guy who feels the need to tell us every damn thing he learned while researching… Hood!