Andy Bockelman: ‘Robin Hood’ misses the mark

'Robin Hood'

2 out of 4 stars

140 minutes

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong and Max von Sydow.

The concept of “rob from the rich and give to the poor” has been a popular one in America in times of economic trouble.

One would think reinventing the character who first embodied that ideal would be a surefire way to energize the masses, but if the new rendition of “Robin Hood” is any indication, it just isn’t worth the effort.

England is in a state of turmoil in the final days of the 12th century.

The valiant King Richard The Lionheart (Danny Huston) is leading troops back home following the Third Crusade, but the regent is slain in battle in France, landing the crown on the head of his brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac), a tyrant who cares nothing for the people under his rule.

Amid the royal fracas is Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), an archer who has deserted his post with no interest in serving his country any longer.

On his way back to England, Longstride takes on the identity of Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), a deceased knight who was close to the former king.

Meeting Loxley’s widow, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), and his elderly father, Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), Longstride’s eyes are opened to the poor living conditions of the village of Nottingham and the rest of the nation. Thus, he and his companions (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle) commit themselves to protecting the English people from villains both within and abroad.

Crowe’s got a lot to live up to in the long line of Robin Hood portrayers, and he comes up short in many departments.

He possesses neither the dashing persona of Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn or Sean Connery, nor the good humor of Cary Elwes and John Cleese.

Ultimately, the latest actor to play the role is more like “Prince of Thieves” star Kevin Costner — he has great potential to bring to the part, yet he just doesn’t fit.

But to paraphrase Elwes in “Men in Tights,” at least he can speak with an English accent.

Conversely, Blanchett makes her role her own as a much more independent and down-to-earth Marion than we’re used to seeing. Having already donned chainmail in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” the actress is a damsel in distress for the modern audience.

Besides having a stronger female lead, Brian Helgeland’s screenplay also takes the focus off Robin’s traditional antagonist, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen), and puts it on new character Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), a shady nobleman looking to help along the impending French invasion of England by exploiting the haughtiness of the new king.

Speaking of John, actor Isaac is absolutely polarizing as the tax-happy monarch known as “The Royal Runt.” Much more bearable are Eileen Atkins as his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and William Hurt as court adviser William Marshal.

Looking grubbier than ever as Robin’s entourage of merry men are Durand as enforcer Little John, Grimes as jovial Will Scarlet and Doyle as minstrel Allan A’Dayle, though Mark Addy bests them all as equality-minded priest and part-time apiarist Friar Tuck.

Director Ridley Scott has made an excellent period movie with Crowe about a soldier returning from war only to lead his people against corrupt rulers in the name of freedom.

That movie was “Gladiator.”

The filmmaker’s attempt to bring Robin Hood lore to a whole new generation is an admirable undertaking, but his blend of high carnage action and light whimsy may as well be oil and water.

Scott has proved his adroitness in crafting epic battle scenes in “Black Hawk Down” and the underrated “Kingdom of Heaven,” but none of his movies have been especially funny and Helgeland’s script goes for laughs far too often, most disturbingly in the form of phallic references.

It may be a matter of opinion, but the inspiration for the name “Little John” should remain a mystery.

If it weren’t for such overbearingly stupid characters weighing down the story, then we could concentrate on the thoughtful themes of pre-Magna Carta England, on the verge of splitting apart without a trustworthy leader.

Scott clearly has lofty aspirations for making his version of “Robin Hood” a provocative and stylistically distinct piece of historical fiction. But, if he’s shooting for a “Gladiator” target, he’s way off.

However, if the director’s goal is to make something along the lines of “A Knight’s Tale,” there’s just one thing to say: Bull’s-eye.

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