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Too many men, too little merry

June 11, 2010 12:36 IST

In my favourite screen adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, Prince John sucked his thumb. He whined and stamped his feet and cried for His Royal Mommy, even as he was goaded on to villainy by a persuasive, lissssping snake.

But that was 1973, and as we look back fondly on that animated Disney version with Peter Ustinov voicing John, we must sadly concede that they -- or, in fact, we -- don't make 'em like they used to.

It isn't from a lack of competence that Ridley Scott's latest epic take on the character suffers, however; it's well shot, the acting is decent all around, and time flies quite quickly for a two hour film.

But it reels from an absolute lack of merriment. Russell Crowe, performing stoically as the dour Robin Hood, decides to leave his belt un-swashbuckled and his charm at home. The result is a folk hero who plods through a heavyhanded costume drama that really has nothing new to offer.

It is, as the posters nudged us to believe, a jungle-friendly version of Gladiator, Scott and Crowe's first compelling collaboration. But it has been ten years since then, and time has taken its toll.

Maximus is now conflicted, the angst from his unnecessary backstory showing in his wishywashy accent that changes gears with almost every scene, as if the Australian was wearing a mood-ring on his tongue. As if to make up for this, our hero has clearly taken a seat at many a banquet table, and now chubbily weighs down on innocent horses who must themselves dream of nimble Robins like Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks -- those screen legends who wore the green tights with magnificent pride.

This fad of taking beloved characters and trying to show us their darker side is turning increasingly vexatious, and while some features succeed in showing us relevant details washed conveniently over by poesy, this one has precious little to offer viewers.

It's a ponderous period drama, predictable and devoid of allure. Stock characters blandly spit out gobletfuls of blusterous dialogue, and the film never quite delivers on its modern day promise. Besides stealing from the multiplex-going rich, that is.

What is perplexing is that if Scott wanted to go authentic, to grittily show us a Robin Hood story in sharply delineated contrast to what we have read and watched all these years -- the legend who is singly responsible for young boys to be infatuated with the very word 'outlaw' -- then why steer so far away from insight?

There is a lot that a new Robin Hood could have said, but this one mumbles too little, while relying on traditional characters from the legend, only sucking the fun out of them.

Scott, now 72, is clearly content getting his period detailing just right, and I doubt aspersions can be cast on the credibility of his chainmail or his ramparts or his royal jewelry. He's always been a stickler for authenticity, but if a film about a folk hero refuses to entertain, there is clearly a problem.

Legends aren't meant to dull us into submission, and this nondescript, megabudget costumed epic does that, in tragically forgettable fashion. Perhaps it's time Ridley stopped waging screen war, and perhaps put a couple of girls in a Thunderbird again.

As for us, well, stealing a few words from that brilliant song about Eric Idle's cowardly, Pythonic take on the character, I'll say don't brave Sir Robin, run away.

Rediff Rating:

Raja Sen in Mumbai