Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Cary Elwes, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Lewis, Dave Chappelle, Robin Rees, Tracy Ullman, Mel Brooks
Watch Robin Hood: Men In Tights online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
“Leave us alone, Mel Brooks!” Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves comes up a lot in this column, perhaps because it’s the most 1990s movie we have ever covered or will ever cover. Having covered a film that’s very much in that mould with The Mask Of Zorro last month, let’s look at a movie that roasts it instead – 1993’s Robin Hood: Men In Tights.
It’s fair to say that Brooks’ later comedies aren’t as great as Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, but what is? Even Spaceballs, the only parody of his that isn’t rooted in a film genre that he obviously grew up loving, is absurdly likeable and quotable. While Prince Of Thieves is the primary comedic bullseye here, there’s a tradition of movies about Merry Men going all the way back to Errol Flynn.
As in the 1991 blockbuster, Robin of Loxley (Cary Elwes) returns to England after fighting in the Crusades and takes to Sherwood Forest to rebel against the wicked Prince John (Richard Lewis) and his dastardly Sheriff (Robin Rees). But the film also takes in various aspects of previous takes, including plot points and musical numbers, all in aid of a wilfully silly story about winning the heart of Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck) by unlocking her Everlast chastity belt.
This could easily have come across as cashing in on the success of Prince Of Thieves, but Brooks would much rather revel in how silly and fun Robin Hood movies have always been. Comedy is all about timing, and while we could have used a film like this as a rebuttal to more recent po-faced takes on the legend, Brooks’ film is all in good fun.
On the other hand, it is burdened by some topical stuff that hasn’t aged spectacularly well. Where this could easily stand up as a parody of all screen versions of the character, it’s unmistakably rooted in the 1990s with references that have dated quite badly. Of all Brooks’ films, it’s the most of its time, and so, it’s always better when it’s playing with universal sight gags (especially when Rabbi Tuckman offers “half off” on circumcisions) than when it’s making plays for its contemporary audience.
Among the additions that specifically spoof the Kevin Costner blockbuster, Isaac Hayes and Dave Chappelle share the plot duties of Morgan Freeman’s Saracen soldier and Tracy Ullman has a smashing time lampooning Geraldine McEwan’s mad witch. There’s even a cracking final cameo in the vein of Sean Connery’s guest appearance as Richard the Lionheart, which we won’t spoil here if you’ve never seen the film.
At the heart of it all, Cary Elwes demonstrates why there should have been approximately 700 more films of him doing his self-assured swordsman routine than we actually got. Part of the film’s meta-humour allows for a massively egotistical Robin, which Elwes plays up magnificently with a series of eminently GIF-able gurns and glances. His attitude is pure Bugs Bunny, and he’s a delight to watch.
Admittedly, this is lower-tier Brooks, but that’s not to say that Men In Tights isn’t also a really enjoyable watch. The old-fashioned japes make the attempts at topical gags all the more jarring and the musical numbers, while genre-appropriate, do tend to get a bit treacly. Still, there’s a traditional sensibility to the film, especially in Elwes’ hilarious send-up of matinee idols, that’s appealing all the same.
Next time on The 90s On Netflix
“Should we blame the government? Or blame society? Or should we blame the images on TV?”
Robin Hood: Men In Tights is available on Netflix UK, as part of £8.99 monthly subscription.
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