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Review: ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993), one of Mel Brooks' more underrated endeavours

Sebastian Zavala Kahn
Review: ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993), one of Mel Brooks' more underrated endeavours

I can’t say I grew up enjoying Mel Brooks’ movies; I actually watched his classics, such as “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles”, when I was at university. But there’s one picture that I actually remember from my childhood, one comedy that has always managed to make me laugh, despite (or maybe because of) its childish antics: “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”. The first time I watched it I was about eight or nine; I was at a friend’s house, and I remember we both laughed our little butts off at pretty much ever gag, every satirical jab and every juvenile joke. And now, twenty years and many lousy Hollywood parodies later, it is still pretty funny. Maybe not as hilarious as when I was a kid, but pretty damned amusing.

If you’ve seen any of the “serious” takes on the Robin Hood story —with either Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe playing the intrepid hero -or the animated Disney adaptation, you have the basic gist of what “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” is trying to spoof. Only this time, Robin (Cary Elwes) is actually British —and speaks with the appropriate accent— and a little less brooding than his counterparts. As usual, though, he is trying to win the heart of his true love, Lady Marian (Amy Yasbeck) with the help of his Merry Men (including Will Scarlet O'Hara and Ahchoo the Moor), while battling his sworn enemies: the evil Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees), and his master, Prince John (Richard Lewis).


Brooks’ style is evident throughout the picture: he throws jokes every minute, hoping that the majority of them will land, with varying results. There’s no denying, though, that there’s nothing too sacred, too vulgar or too stupid for him to include. We have plenty of scenes spoofing films such as “The Godfather”—one of the funnier bits, actually, mostly thanks to Dom DeLuise’s performance as “Don Giovanni”—, references to other Robin Hood movies, puns, wordplay, bathroom jokes —although nothing too explicit— and, of course, visual gags. Consider, for example, Robin’s means of transportation from Jerusalem to England, the way he is “robbed” of his childhood castle, or a romantic encounter between him and Marian while they sing. It’s all very obvious and, in some cases, childish —like the way a kid messenger likes to run from and to most places.


Obviously not all jokes work, but the success ratio is surprisingly high considering the great amount of gags. As with any other comedy, it all depends on the type of humour one enjoys, although admittedly, Brooks does try to satisfy pretty much every kind of viewer. Unfortunately, there are aspects of the production that don’t fully gel, such as most of the fourth wall breaks —the only one that managed to make me laugh was a more subtle one, involving Elwes slightly staring at the camera— or some of the pratfalls. I get that “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” is supposed to be a ridiculous affair, but that doesn’t mean Brooks had to include as much slapstick as he did. The one inspired moment regarding physical comedy, though, involves a small army of knights falling like dominoes; the film needed more ideas like that, and less “funny” jumps, falls or punches.


cary elwes and dave chappelle in robin hood men in tights 1993


Despite not being the obvious choice for headlining a silly comedy, Cary Elwes is pretty solid as Robin. He plays the straight man, the serious hero amidst all the ridiculousness, successfully channeling Errol Flynn and other old-school action heroes. His dry sense of humour and sarcastic line delivery is perfect for the character, even during the more absurd bits. Roger Rees is suitably over-the-top as the Sheriff of Rottingham, Richard Lewis plays Prince John as a lazy, easily-annoyed type (yes, he has a mole!), and Amy Yasbeck has the thankless role of Marian, an archetypical damsel in distress who has little to do but wait for Robin to rescue her (and try to open her Everlast chastity belt). Mark Blankfield is hilarious as Blinkin (Robin’s blind aid) and a young Dave Chappelle has a standout role as the aforementioned Ahchoo. Yes, the only reason he’s named “Ahchoo” is because Brooks wanted every other character to say “bless you” every time someone called him.


Being twenty-five years old, it makes sense that “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” hasn’t aged as well as other films from its time, considering spoofs tend to tell very topical jokes. Some references may go over the heads of the younger viewers —especially those regarding the Kevin Costner picture, or real life events of the nineties—, and the treatment of some characters may seem pretty harsh nowadays. Dave Chapelle doesn’t do too bad —this makes sense, since Brooks is the man who wrote and directed the at-the-moment-revolutionary “Blazing Saddles” which, of course, is referenced in “Men in Tights”— but the female characters fare worse. Marion is nothing more than the object of Robin’s desires, and her chaperone, Broomhilde (played by Megan Cavanagh) is the butt of many fat jokes, which have aged terribly. These flaws thankfully don’t manage to ruin the overall experience of watching the movie, but do turn it into something a little less consistent.


In any case, I can’t say I didn’t have fun watching “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” once again. Despite some elements that haven’t aged well, as well as some unnecessary pratfalls, this is a very solid parody, particularly when compared to more modern offerings, which instead of, you know, spoofing a particular genre or specific movies, don’t even try to develop clever jokes or gags. Mel Brooks has done this sort of film so many times and for so many years, that even his less successful endeavours (such as the much-maligned “Dracula: Dead and Lovin’ It”) have a couple of standout moments. “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, while not as bad as the Leslie Nielsen vehicle, nor as memorable as Brooks’ classics, is smart enough, fast enough, and funny enough for a lazy afternoon. And it’s got a couple of memorable musical numbers to boot! If I have to choose between the Costner film, the Crowe bore, or the upcoming —and awful-looking— new version with Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx, I’ll choose Brooks, Elwes and his men in tights any day.



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Amy YasbeckCary ElewscomedyDave ChapelleMel BrooksMen in TightsmusicalparodyreviewRichard LewisRobin HoodRoger ReesSebastian Zavalaspoof

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