(On TV, April 2018) Ugh. There was a time in my life when I rather liked Mel Brooks’ later phase (i.e.: Anything past the mid-seventies) satirical comedy. I still think fondly of Spaceballs despite a strong suspicion that I like it because of Star Wars more than anything else. A recently re-watch of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, however, had me severely downgrading the film. With History of the World: Part I, I have to face the facts: More of Brooks’s wild comedy is a miss rather than a hit. Oh, I still like bits and pieces of it. The fourth-wall-breaking is fun, the Busby-Berkley-inspired music number is a really good and I really can’t fault Madeline Khan in anything. But the rest of the film … oy vey. It really starts on the wrong foot with a caveman sequence going straight for lower-common denominator stuff, and much the rest of the film seldom rises above that level. Jokes are regularly run into the ground, the humour is usually puerile and the production values (at the notable exception of the musical number) look as if few people actually cared. It shoots in all direction but only manages to hit a few targets. I’m not sure what happened in the late seventies for Brooks’s stuff to fall so flat, but we’re stuck with the results.
(On Cable TV, March 2018) Being a modern moviegoer taking a look at the classics can lead to blasphemous statements, so here goes: I like the remake of The Producers better than the original. Once you get your rage out of your system, consider this: The original Mel Brooks version of The Producers is scattershot—it aims in all directions, occasionally hitting a bullseye and occasionally firing off in the air. The real highlight of this original production only comes after an hour of various nonsense—it’s really good once the stage musical begins and we get to see the insanity of a camp version of Hitler. In the meantime (and afterwards), The Producers is duller than expected. In contrast, the remake version doesn’t quite capture the stage musical in its unhinged glory, but has a much stronger first and third act, with more memorable supporting characters and a stream of musical numbers throughout. Yeah, I’ll take the remake if only for Uma’s Ulla. Still, preferring the remake over the fifty-year-old original shouldn’t take away from the qualities of the original. As stated, the original has a much stronger musical sequence. It also benefits from Gene Wilder and (to a lesser extent) Zero Mostel in the lead roles. There’s also a definite shock quality to the original that can’t be properly appreciated by modern audiences—although it can be felt secondhand from some reactions baked in the film itself. Remake aside, The Producers remains a film that can be readily watched even today without trouble … but it is definitely of its time, from a writer/director making his debut. Influential, but since then supplanted by a much slicker (and focused) remake. Considering that Brooks himself wrote much of the remake, that’s not that much of a blasphemous statement.
(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.