Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

(Second viewing, On TV, March 2017) Hmmm. My memories of Robin Hood: Men in Tights weren’t particularly good to begin with, but revisiting the movie more than twenty years later doesn’t do it any favour. The only reason why I’m not incensed about it is that there’s been plenty of terrible spoofs since then, even if you mercifully forget all about the Friedberg/Seltzer abominations. The truth is, Mel Brooks has a few unfortunate tendencies and while his best movies manage to avoid them, they’re nearly all on display in Men in Tights. The worst has to be a directorial vision that allows characters to mug for the camera, fully cognizant that they’re in a dumb comedy. That’s how we get quizzical glances, broad self-aware performances, pauses for laughter and blatant hamming. See, I’m funny! Is the unspoken assertion here, allowing viewers to shout back, “No, you’re not!” It harms the film even more when the pacing is slack enough to anticipate the next joke—the best spoofs usually move along at rocket pacing, layering jokes in background and almost never letting the audience in on the jokes. Here, there are basically honking signals, spotlights and subtitles to point viewers at the humour. Brooks himself shows up in a self-congratulatory sequence that quickly turns unbearable. Cary Elwes was a good choice for Robin Hood given a pedigree that included The Princess Bride … unless you’ve just watched The Princess Bride and was reminded of a kind of brilliance so lacking here. Isaac Hayes and Dave Chapelle do okay with what they’re given, but the only actors who escape from the mess with some decency are Roger Rees as the sheriff (hamming it up like Alan Rickman, but not mugging for laughs as terribly as other actors) and Amy Yasbeck, whose red mane is a compelling character in her own right. On the big scale of spoof comedies, the bottom has been lowered time and time again by Friedberg/Seltzer, and if Men in Tights is quite a bit better than those (by sheer virtue of actually attempting jokes), it’s still mediocre compared to the ZAZ classics or even Brooks” best. It should do if all you’re looking for is an amusing evening film, but given that my low expectations weren’t even met, I’d hazard that you’d be better off watching or re-watching other spoofs instead.

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