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ROBIN HOOD is a big lie, but "OK" action movie (review)

Rating: (Passable)

We're about to learn how much blatant fabrication movie audiences will endure. Robin Hood has almost nothing in common with the legendary tale it's based on, and I see no evidence that anyone involved in this film had a lick of interest in the legendary outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Instead, we get a 45-year-old Russell Crowe (Robin) shooting and stabbing bands of Frenchmen in the forest. Don't get me wrong, this is a decent action flick, but Universal Pictures and Director Ridley Scott lied when they named it Robin Hood.

Tim Burton is hardly accurate to his source material in Alice in Wonderland, but Ridley and Russell are almost contentious in their disregard for the stories of Sherwood Forest. In this Robin Hood, the infamous archer is a renowned warrior who commands an entire army against the French. When did that happen? His love interest, Maid Marian (Cate Blanchett), is now a 21st century warrior vixen who summons an army of lost boys to accompany her in battle. The French, well they are easy to pick out: they're the ones in black with defining evil features like bald heads, goatees, and facial scars. (I don't know any French people, but this seems accurate enough.)

Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) resembles the animated Disney version of Tuck, but now operates his own microbrewery, crafting batches of mead in between sermons. He's also an idiot, easily tricked by Robin into betraying his church so the town can get some extra grain. After several members of the church see and dismiss Tuck's bees, Robin threatens to expose his bee-to-alcohol operation. "What if the grain did not reach York?" Tuck asks Robin. "Well then the bees can stay put," Hood tells the dumbfounded friar. 

Crowe is an effective enough Robin "of the Hood," but far too old, especially considering this is a prequel to the outlaw's known adventures. The average life expectancy in medieval Britain was 30, meaning that Robin Hood is already living on borrowed time, as is Maid Marian and most of the cast. Crowe's Robin is also plagued by flashbacks of his troubled childhood, a common problem for movie heroes. As is usually the case, these flashbacks culminate in a wondrous self-revelation that propels the plot toward climax.

If viewed as a generic action movie set in medieval Britain, most of my complaints are irrelevant. Ridley Scott knows the roles to cast in films like these. The bad guys are clearly labeled and do mean things, so you know they're bad. They're led by Mark Strong, who's played villains so long I think he might actually be one. Then there's William Hurt, who plays invented character William Marshal. His job is to smugly half-smile in close-up shots every time King John (Oscar Isaac) says or does something selfish. It's a simple role, and he performs it well. Other characters, like Sir Walter Loxley, played by Max von Sydow, are equally well acted and appropriately cast.

The action itself is epic and better looking than most films of this genre. Some scenes evoke memories of Lord of the Rings, Hero, and The Last Samurai--three of my favorites. During the climactic battle at the end (did you think it would conclude any other way?) we see plenty of horses, swords, arrows, and Ridley Scott slow-motion screams from Crowe. It's clear that everyone involved is talented and capable; they're all proven. So why didn't they film a movie they actually cared about? 

We'd be better off if Hollywood operated more like DragnetIf they did, at least everyone's name would have been changed to protect the innocent. Ridley Scott, it seems, is no Sargent Friday.

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