While King Richard is absent during the Crusades, Robin of Loxley returns to England to realize his destiny as Robin Hood in this campy parody.
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The sets are overly staged with high definition lighting. The characters are named ridiculously. The camera lingers too long on the actors after delivering their punchlines. And the jokes are mostly based on anachronistic humor and self-reflective acknowledgements that this is indeed a movie production.
Yes, it is a Mel Brooks movie. And I am sorry to report that it is not one of his better achievements.
Aiming his arrow mostly at Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, director and co-writer Brooks takes on this legend with a comedic style that presents itself as more frivolous than funny. The film is not terrible, but given the amunition available from Mr. Costner’s completely brainless version (which many critics considered was a parody unto itself), this movie should have been a lot better. Instead of exploring new and creative forms of physical gags and historical jokes as he so expertly did in “History of the World, Part 1”, Brooks resorts to lame jokes about blind people and pointless references to popular movies.
I tried to enjoy the comedy in this movie in a way that now seems desperate. As always, Brooks’ intentions are good natured and somewhat less crude than what they used to be. But watching these characters move through the predictable motions, you begin to feel like a maturing adolescent listening to your grandfather tell you the same joke when you were a child. Instead of slapping your knee in hilarity, you feel more like shaking your head at the absurdity.
Brooks goes after other modern films in this feature, but with minimal flair. There are allusions to “JFK”, “Malcolm X”, “The Godfather”, and “White Men Can’t Jump”. But these references are irrelevant to the material being parodized and therefore seem as appropriate as a “Family Guy” flashback.
While Brooks is no stranger to re-visiting his favorite jokes (the “walk this way” gag is performed again, too), the humor behind them fails to ignite like they did back in the day.
But this is not to say that “Men in Tights” is a complete wash. There are elements in the story that succeed in creating at least a smile. In addition to Roger Rees’ perfectly sleezy performance as the dyslexic Sheriff, there is Richard Lewis as Prince John. Lewis, a notoriously horrible actor, does manage a few good moments as the neurotic villain. When Robin Hood (a completely unfunny Cary Elwes) drops a dead boar onto the Prince’s banquet table, Lewis groans, “Traife”. No one could make fun of the Jews quite like Mel Brooks.
Speaking of whom, Mr. Brooks makes an entertaining appearance as Rabbi Tuckman, traveling through Sherwood Forrest to introduce the latest craze for the gentiles: circumcision. After scaring the hell out of Robin Hood’s Merry Men with an explanation of his practice, he mumbles, “I gotta work with a much younger crowd.”
Dave Chappelle makes his screen debut as Ahchoo (“Bless You”), son of Asneeze (the late Isaac Hayes). Chappelle does his best with the material, but fans of his stand-up will undoubtedly think his performance here is below his abilities as a raunchy comedian. His best moment is an uttered reference to Rodney King as he is beaten by the Sheriff’s soldiers.
Two of Brooks’ Hall-of-Famers pick things up with short but welcome appearances: Dom DeLuise doing a nearly perfect Marlon Brando as Don Giovanni, and Dick Van Patten as the Abbot.
My personal favorite joke in the whole movie occurs when Van Patten walks through a crowded village. He is greeted numerous times until a rotund villager resembling Lou Costello screams, “Hey Abbot!” I could have used more jokes like these, and less random Winston Churchill imitations.