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‘Robin Hood’ prequel never rises above passable

Fri., May 14, 2010

Cate Blanchett, left, and Russell Crowe star in “Robin Hood.” Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures)
Cate Blanchett, left, and Russell Crowe star in “Robin Hood.” Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures)

Action scenes, stellar cast get lost in uneven script

In one unfortunate regard, Ridley Scott’s grimy “Robin Hood” lives up to its legendary character: It, too, robs – just from richer movies.

Scott’s bungled yet matinee-worthy take on that brave 13th-century archer who targets England’s royally corrupt isn’t nearly as original as everyone associated with it reportedly believes.

Strip it of the pretense and you get a paint-by-numbers “origin” superhero story, resplendent with hissable villains, intense battle sequences, convoluted subplots and a hero with repressed childhood memories.

It’s not a bad thing if executed well, and the masterful Scott (“Alien,” “Gladiator”) at the helm keeps the pace fast, helping to gloss over imperfections.

This prequel to the more familiar version of the Robin Hood story finds Robin assuming the identity of Maid Marion’s dead husband while France plots to conquer England and its newly crowned king.

It hits its target in the early action scenes and whenever the sharp, strong Marion (a luminous Cate Blanchett) and the deliciously duplicitous Godfrey (scene-stealer Mark Strong of “Kick-Ass”) are on screen.

Sadly, Russell Crowe in the title role is too restrained and too bland, although he does have the presence and swoon-worthy appeal – even when he dons a purple paisley shirt and slick leather pants to show off his soft side. (Sorry, but there are no tights to be found.)

All of the actors, no matter how good, are ultimately undone by a chaotic screenplay that erratically shifts tones and cribs from other films.

Storytelling deja vu rules throughout this “Hood” with scenes that seem to have played out on “The Sopranos,” “Braveheart” and, in one of the most undeveloped plot threads, “Peter Pan,” with the lost boys of Sherwood Forest ransacking Nottingham. (That bit kicks off the film, an odd choice given the kids never get much screen time afterward.)

And while the plot about kings and noblemen socking it to the middle class and poor with higher taxes resonates today – for Tea Party loyalists, this “Robin Hood” could become a rallying point like “Fahrenheit 9/ 11” was for Iraq war protesters – the screenplay flits around issues and never hammers home an original point. Instead, we get the same-old lesson about standing up to injustices.

To hide the fact that there’s no real “there” there, screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) jumps around a lot, from a castle battle in France (rousingly directed by Scott) to the bedroom of the spoiled brat Prince John (newcomer Oscar Isaac), who eventually wears the crown after his brother King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston in Cowardly Lion locks) is killed in battle.

In the pantheon of Robin Hood films, this is a passable and suitable version. It’s leagues better than the 1991 Kevin Costner fiasco and thankfully devoid of a Bryan Adams song.

But that’s not good enough, given the talent in front of and behind the camera. This “Robin Hood” should have hit the summer blockbuster bull’s-eye full on. Instead, it merely grazes it.

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