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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Russell Crowe is a not-so-merry man in the tedious Robin Hood.
No other director frustrates me as much as Ridley Scott. He's made two of my all-time favorite films - Alien and Blade Runner - as well as a number of other pictures that I think are near-brilliant (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Thelma & Louise). He's also made his fair share of movies that I think are gigantic misfires (G.I. Jane, Hannibal, Body of Lies). Scott's latest, Robin Hood, is like a "greatest misses" package that combines the worst elements from the dreary 1492: Conquest of Paradise and the overwrought Kingdom of Heaven, then tries to marry them to the formula of Gladiator - a flick I've never cared for in spite of its Oscar win.

Forget everything you think you know about Robin Hood; Scott's film is a gloomy revisionist take on the story, with no lightness or levity, and certainly no swashbuckling. Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride, who travels to Nottingham, a town under the grip of a corrupt sheriff (Matthew MacFadyen) and the power-mad Prince John (Oscar Isaac). There's a lot of exposition about unfair taxation, and royal lineage, and inter-country politics, and things like that; however, the screenplay does such a weak job of introducing themes and secondary characters that it becomes confusing to follow the plot. Nevertheless, Robin joins together with cohorts like Little John (Kevin Durand) and Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) to defend the innocent people of Nottingham from the sheriff and Prince John, while also romancing Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett).

Normally, I'd talk more about plot, but I don't want to here. I found it confusing and uninteresting, to the point where I honestly zoned out. Robin Hood had that effect on me overall. I don't really believe in zoning out during a movie; the whole purpose, after all, is to pay attention. Yet every so often, a film comes along that is so devoid of anything interesting that I can't help it. My mind starts to wander, even though I'm physically staring at the screen. I don't do boredom well. I'd much rather see a bad movie than a boring one, because at least a bad one will keep me engaged, even if it's only to cast venom.

I know what the problem was for me this time. Robin Hood is the latest in a series of movies to be inspired by Braveheart (a picture I thought was good but, like Gladiator, have never understood the intense reverence for). Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Alexander and a few others have all tried to emulate Braveheart's epic quality, and to my mind, all have failed. Robin Hood fails as badly as any of them. Once again, we get name actors running around in sandals, carrying swords, and grandly proclaiming even the simplest lines of dialogue in overly-dramatic voices. We also get yet another negligible plot that seems to meander all over the place, as though the screenwriter was too busy trying to establish all the connections to make things linear or concise.

Robin Hood additionally suffers from a deadening sense of familiarity. As has apparently become mandatory, all the action sequences are filmed using a fast shutter speed to make them seem more frantic (a la Gladiator). Scott gives us the now-clichéd money shot where archers shoot their bows and we see hundreds of arrows flying through the air simultaneously. The villain, as usual, is a sniveling jerk who speaks in a Snidely Whiplash voice, because subtlety is verboten in this new wave of wannabe epics.

Not even the stars can elevate such predictable material. The great Cate Blanchett is wasted; she isn't given enough scenes to develop a three-dimensional character. And Russell Crowe essentially phones in his performance. The actor falls back on a lot of familiar tricks - ones he's been using far too frequently on screen these days. He scowls, and grumbles his dialogue, and projects an air of generic intensity. What he does not do is bring a sense of heroism or charisma to his character. Crowe is so relentlessly sullen in this part that he makes Robin Hood a total dullard.

There's not much left. A couple of the action scenes are okay, although there aren't as many as the advertising would lead you to believe. The entire middle section of the movie is talky, with the action coming into play mostly in the first 15 minutes and the last 30. The supporting characters, who are beloved by Robin Hood fans, are given short shrift and never allowed to become fleshed out. I hope you understand now why I zoned.

On the whole, this was a huge disappointment. The pairing of Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, and Cate Blanchett doing a new take on a classic tale sounds like a recipe for fun, but instead, Robin Hood is an exercise in tedium. In fact, the movie is such a fun-killer that it actually makes the Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights look good in comparison.

( 1/2 out of four)

Robin Hood is rated PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

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