Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
directed by Kevin Reynolds
(Warner Brothers, 1991)

All of the bad things that have been said about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves are true.

Kevin Costner's acting is wooden, and his attempts at an English accent are laughable. Worse yet, the plot is abysmal. Prince John has been written entirely out of the tale, leaving the lowly Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) to plot to overthrow the missing King Richard on his own. A nonsensical witch has been added to the story for no apparent reason (except, I suppose, to make the sheriff seem really evil), as has the Moorish Azeem (Morgan Freeman), who has technological advances at his disposal which are terribly anachronistic. Painted Celts of a sort several centuries out of their time are used to fight the Saxons; apparently, costumes are cheaper for Celts than for Normans. And Robin and Will Scarlett (Christian Slater) have unaccountably become brothers.

Crediting Robin's eventual victory in part on the use of gunpowder (another anachronism) soils the strength of the legend.

The movie struggles to find an identity, striving to be grim and gritty while at the same time allowing Rickman to run through his scenes like a comedian; he'd be great if he wasn't the only one in a comedy. (His slapstick approach to an attempted rape is, however, rather tasteless.) Michael Wincott chews the scenery as the nefarious Guy of Gisborne, but he apparently wasn't told by director Kevin Reynolds whether he was playing a serious villain or a buffoon.

A brief appearance by Sean Connery as King Richard is a nice touch, particularly given Connery's excellent take on Robin in the masterful Robin and Marian. Speaking of Marian, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's performance as Robin's sweetheart is one of the high points of the film, simply because she manages to move through her scenes with some grace despite the many failings around her.

Taken simply as a medieval fiction, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves can be borne simply for the sake of some good fight scenes. But if you want to see a good version of the Robin Hood legend, check out the less known but far superior film starring Patrick Bergin in the title role. Bergin hit the bullseye with ease; Costner misses his target entirely.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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