‘First Knight” is a film that makes you nostalgic for Monty Python.
As in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
That is clear from the start of this King Arthur-themed romance. But it’s most apparent during a closing sequence, when the king’s archer takes aim at a floating pyre with a flaming arrow.
It is with that climactic shot - which, naturally, lands perfectly - that Monty Python would have had so much fun.
(“Oops,” Michael Palin might say as one arrow after another misses the fuelsoaked raft, setting everything in sight aflame - trees, castles, gap-toothed peasants, the water. Everything, of course, but the pyre itself.)
Actually, though, “First Knight,” which is directed by Jerry Zucker, doesn’t need the Python boys at all. It’s pretty hilarious anyway, though the effect is presumably unintentional.
This is another telling of a classic story. But instead of making a pre-teen Indian princess into a candidate for House of Fashion, a la “Pocahontas,” “First Knight” attempts to update the legend of Camelot.
This is “Le Morte D’Arthur” by way of Sally Jessy Raphael. This is “Excalibur” by way of Robert Bly.
Everyone here talks about feelings.
King Arthur (Sean Connery) is timid about expressing his feelings of love for the beautiful, young Guinevere (Julia Ormond).
Guinevere is certain of her love for Arthur, but she feels it in a way that is more dutiful than lust-driven. At any moment you expect her to call the grizzled old guy Daddy.
But Lancelot (Richard… Gere?) is England’s champion of feelings. Here’s a guy who, after killing half an invading army all by himself, encounters some painful repressed memories. Poor guy, he rips off his armor and retreats to a garden to cry in peace.
From the sheer rush of water, it’s obvious that losing Cindy Crawford couldn’t have hurt him more.
Not that there’s anything wrong about expressing pain. Crying, especially in private, is always a good alternative to cleaving someone in half.
But if memory serves, Arthur and Lancelot and the rest of the Round Table boys rode around the English-Welsh landscape during the sixth century. Tears and tenderness during those tough times certainly were kept at a minimum, as were feminist notions such as the one trumpeted here that portrays Guinevere as nothing less than a medieval Princess Leia.
Of course, veracity isn’t something we look to Hollywood for. If so, Pocahontas would be a sixth-grader, and Hugh Grant would star in John Waters movies.
But neither should we completely ignore it, which is an attitude that even Mel Gibson understands. (His 14th-century Scotland in “Braveheart” resembles a mud-wrestling pen, while director Jerry Zucker’s sixth-century-era Britain features enough candle-power to light up Disney World.)
True, there are some cool things about “First Knight”:
An obstacle course featuring what look to be Ginsu knives and 500-pound bowling balls.
Hand-held crossbows that are as accurate, and deadly, as Star Fleet phasers.
A pulley-driven powerboat that even Robert Fulton would have admired.
Flaming arrows that are as easy to light as highway flares.
Glow-in-the-dark armor for Arthur’s knights.
Glower-in-the-dankness makeup for Ben Cross (who plays Arthur’s rival, Malagant).
And visually, if in no other way, the film is a treat. The knight-vs.-knight battle (at night, natch) is a swap-meet of reflected images.
But there are a few things missing from the rest of the effort. Story logic for one. Casting consciousness for another (though, to be fair, Gere is better than you might suspect). And period references for a third (Gere’s wardrobe is T-shirt by J. Crew, sword by Wilkinson and hair by Grecian Formula).
Most of all, though, what’s missing are the Pythonites and their mad sensibilities. We need limbless black knights, killer bunnies and bridge guardians who cackle questions such as “What is your favorite color?”
The resulting movie may not be any funnier than Zucker’s, but at least the jokes would be intentional.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “First Knight” ** Location: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Jerry Zucker, starring Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond and Ben Cross Running time: 1:52 Rating: PG-13