Continuing from Dracula: Dead and Loving It is yet another great Mel Brooks comedy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The film features Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men film series, Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and films), Dom DeLuise (Urgo on Stargate SG-1‘s Season 3 episode, Urgo), and David DeLuise (Pete Shanahan on Stargate SG-1).
According to The New York Times review:
“Robin Hood: Men in Tights” is Mel Brooks’s breezy sendup of every Robin Hood movie ever made, with subsidiary references to other movies, most of them made by Mr. Brooks. The new film’s favorite target is Kevin Costner’s politically correct “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves,” which championed not only the civil rights of serfs but also feminism, racial understanding and maybe even whales, though my memory is now hazy about that. The Costner film remains memorable mostly for the scenes in which the camera sometimes adopted the point of view of an arrow whizzing unerringly toward its mark.
The trajectory of “Men in Tights” is a good deal less certain. The movie takes a long time to get off the ground, and then it wobbles. It hits a couple of ecstatically funny high points, only to plummet into a bog of second-rate gags, emerging a long time later to engage the audience by the sheer, unstoppable force of the Brooks chutzpah.
Any review of “Men in Tights” must waffle in somewhat the same manner. Even in circumstances that are far from ideal, it’s good to have Mr. Brooks back on screen as a director, a writer (in collaboration with Evan Chandler and J. David Shapiro) and an actor (if only in a small role). He shows up here as the itinerant Rabbi Tuckman, newly arrived in Sherwood Forest to purvey wine and to perform circumcisions (which never do catch on with Robin and his merry men).
The best thing about “Men in Tights” is its cast. Appearing as Robin is Cary Elwes, a young English actor who looks something like the athletic, unlined Errol Flynn but who behaves as if there were a seven-second time-lapse between the world and his brain. His Robin is earnest, stalwart, dashing and always a little bit slow.
Mr. Elwes swashbuckles with conviction. He’s also good exclaiming the mad Brooks dialogue (“Stop that castle!”) when Robin arrives home from the crusades to find Loxley Hall, his ancestral home, being carted away because of nonpayment of taxes. Amy Yasbeck, who plays Marian, is a perfect mate for this Robin. She’s beautiful and sincere, though there’s not much going on upstairs. On one giddy occasion in her bubble bath, she sings with the purity of Julie Andrews (with a voice supplied by Debbie James). If Marian sometimes appears distracted, it’s probably because of the bulky chastity belt she wears with otherwise maidenly resignation.
Roger Rees, still best known here for his Tony Award-winning performance in the title role of Broadway’s “Nicholas Nickleby,” is extremely funny as the evil Sheriff of Rottingham, a character that seems to be based less on legend than on Alan Rickman’s overripe performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Costner production. Mr. Rees also has a fine foil in Richard Lewis, the television comic who appears as a seriously neurotic Prince John, a fellow who is afraid of absolutely everything.
The supporting cast includes Tracey Ullman as Latrine, Prince John’s chief cook and soothsayer; Dave Chappelle as Ahchoo (son of Asneeze, played by Isaac Hayes), a Moorish exchange student studying in England, and Mark Blankfield as Blinken, Robin’s blind servant, a role that could have been played to the lunatic hilt by Marty Feldman.
What’s missing is the kind of densely packed comic screenplay that helped to make “Young Frankenstein” and “High Anxiety” two of the most delectable movie parodies of the last 20 years. “Men in Tights” has the manner of something that wasn’t argued over long enough. A few good gags are supplemented by dozens of others that still need to be worked on or tossed out entirely. Occasional lines are delightfully dizzy, but they are random shots. There’s no comic momentum.
Unlike the Costner film it is kidding, “Men in Tights” is enthusiastically revisionist in its social conscience. Bad-taste jokes about the disadvataged and minorities abound. Yet it’s so frontally rude that only the terminally humorless might object. Toward the end of the movie, Robin’s merry men sing the title song in which they assert their manliness, swearing that though they do wear tights, they’re not sissies, at which point they go into a brief can-can. This is the humor of Princeton Triangle shows, Harvard Hasty Puddings and “Charley’s Aunt.”
The most damaging thing to be said about “Men in Tights” is that in spite of the references to “Prince of Thieves” and other comparatively recent films, it seems embedded in a movie world that’s far more ancient. It’s a shock when Mr. Brooks brings on Dom DeLuise to do his parody of Marlon Brando in his “Godfather” performance.
The director also has an unfortunate way of reminding us of his own earlier, better, much more riotous comedies. He even has a reprise of a beloved gag from “Young Frankenstein.” It’s perfectly acceptable in a comedy of this sort to be offensive, but it’s something else to scrape the bottom of your own barrel in front of everybody. Adults may be watching.