Russell Crowe, Robin Hood

David Appleby/Universal Studios

Review in a Hurry: A rather pointless update of the (theoretically) timeless tale. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's latest pairing is not without its pleasures, but fails to deliver the action you might expect.

The Bigger Picture: A country in massive debt because the last ruler invested heavily in foreign wars. Aggrieved peasants who dislike the fact that the new guy wants to tax them. Gee, Ridley Scott, could you have been a little more obvious in your attempts to make Robin Hood more "contemporary"?

On the plus side, by tweaking the narrative, Scott does away with all the tropes you've seen before. King Richard (Danny Huston), who frequently returns to save the day in these stories, is eliminated early on. Robin and Little John (an excellently cast Kevin Durand) meet as uneasy fellow soldiers, rather than in a quarterstaff battle on a log. There's no silver arrow tournament or arrow splitting. Robin isn't even "Robin of Locksley" any more, but rather an impersonator of sorts.

There's more humor than one might expect: not so much of it from Crowe, but plenty from Durand, Mark Addy's Friar Tuck and Oscar Isaac's appropriately prissy Prince John.

But then you have Mark Strong as the treacherous double-agent Godfrey, who gets a Heath Ledger-Joker scar during an early skirmish, and even shamelessly licks it just like the late Oscar-winner. There's a band of mud-masked Lost Boys who hide out in Sherwood with no explanation, adding nothing to the plot. We have a silly family motto about lions and lambs that recalls Twilight and romantic chemistry between Robin and Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett) that might best be described as imaginary.

I tuned out right about the time Robin started lecturing Prince John and an assembled group of barons about a bill of rights and limited central government. Scott and Crowe should have just gone ahead and done a George Washington biopic instead.

To hear Russell Crowe say it in interviews, you'd think that the only other cinematic Robin Hoods had been Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner, and that it never occurred to anybody before to make the hero grim and gritty. Setting aside such movies as Robin and Marian or TV shows like the U.K.'s Robin of Sherwood (Ray Winstone = Best Will Scarlett Ever), even Costner himself claimed to be trying for a darker Robin.

To see the studios promote it, you'd think we were getting Gladiator in Sherwood Forest, which thankfully is not the case. No horrible CG-compositing, brown filters, dorky character names or chopsocky editing to be had here.

Unfortunately, what we do have here is without much reason to exist. One big battle at the beginning and one at the end do not an action movie make. Even when one cribs from Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan in hopes of making it so.

The 180—a Second Opinion: It probably goes without saying that, unlike the Costner version, this Robin Hood and his Merry Men have English accents. But better...they mostly have working-class English accents, and Canadian-born Durand nails his more Scottish brogue with ease.

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