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Blu-ray Review: Robin Hood: Men in Tights

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Mel Brooks has always been a popular comedy director, and his films date back to the late 60s when he released his hit, The Producers. Since then his resume has included fan favorites such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and History of the World, Part 1. While we haven't seen anything theatrically from Brooks since 2005's Dracula: Dead and Loving It, his success in the industry is still something to admire.

On DVD and Blu-ray Brooks' films have been popular enough, and in case you missed out on the collection of films released in the latter part of last year, Fox has broken the collection up for individual sale. Robin Hood: Men in Tights has landed on my doorstep, and it's time to crack open this 17 year old comedy.

In many ways Robin Hood: Men in Tights is a traditional Mel Brooks comedy. The film is full of irreverent humor, breaks the fourth wall, and includes some of Mel's favorite jokes. Though all the trappings are here, the movie never really takes off and the comedy bits aren't as golden as they could have been. Sure there are laughs, and yes the film is charming enough to add to one's collection, but it's nowhere near as sharp as some of Mel's other efforts.

Robin Hood takes place in England and retells the classic tale in (mostly) faithful detail. Robin of Loxley (Cary Elwes) has been captured during the Crusades and finds himself imprisoned in Khalil Prison in Jerusalem. While there he meets an old man named Asneeze, (Isaac Hayes), who helps him escape and tells him to find his son, Ahchoo (Dave Chappelle). After a brief swim from Jerusalem to England, Robin comes across Ahchoo being harassed by some of Prince John's (Richard Lewis) guards. From this point Robin makes a nemesis out of the Sheriff of Rottingham, Mervyn (Roger Rees) and sets out to right the wrongs and fight for injustice.

Robin is soon joined by his family's blind servant, Blinkin (Mark Blankfield), and along with Ahchoo they meet up with Will Scarlet (Matthew Porretta) and Little John (Eric Allan Kramer) to form the Merry Men. From this point the story follows typical Robin Hood fashion as Robin and his gang do what they can to give Prince John a hard time, make a fool of the Sheriff, and hook up with Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck). It's a color-by-numbers retelling of Robin Hood that only separates itself from the rest by its brand of humor.

The jokes and gags in Robin Hood: Men in Tights are certainly plentiful, though they aren't consistently funny. For every gut-buster, there's a joke that will elicit a groan, or even be worthy of a forehead slap. Watching Chappelle pause during a fight to pump up his sneakers or listening to Robin recite a Winston Churchill speech aren't exactly highlights. Adding to that are recurring gags that are amusing at first, but grow stale as time goes on (John's moving mole, and a "bless you" whenever someone says Ahchoo's name, for example). There are even jokes that are set up that don't go anywhere such as Robin of Loxley getting with Marian of Bagelle. Get it? Bagel and Lox? Yeah, it's about that funny.

What does work here are the subtle bits of humor and quirks of the cast that were written into the script. The Sheriff's dyslexia forces him to spew some funny lines; Robin's cockiness is narcissistically charming, and Blinkin's occasional misunderstanding will put a smile on your face. Cameos are abundant here as well and you can expect to see Dom DeLuise, Tracy Ulman, and Patrick Stewart pop up at various points. Mel even appears as Rabbi Tuckman for the Jewish role of Friar Tuck. There are also references to other Brooks films such as Blazing Saddles and History of the World, Part 1.

Though Robin Hood: Men in Tights isn't nearly as successful or funny as his other efforts, it is decidedly a Mel Brooks comedy. The brand of humor is his own and for every whiff there's a joke that will force you to crack a smile. It's certainly not the highlight of the collection, but Brooks fans will find an entertaining film here that's worth revisiting from time to time. Consider it recommended.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights is presented on Blu-ray with a full 1080p high definition and AVC encoding. The film comes with its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and presents itself with a solid transfer that is definitely better than the previous DVD edition. The picture quality here is sharp all around with some nice definition in terms of detail, though some grain and softness holds this release back from being truly spectacular. Colors are vivid all around and black levels are okay, though not great. The transfer here is better than average, but it's not showcase material.

The same can more or less be said for the audio package. The film hits Blu-ray with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track with English, French, and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks as well. The Master Audio selection is the best choice here in every conceivable way, but it's not exactly comparable to other DTS-HD tracks on the market. Overall the track feels somewhat flat with dialogue, music, and sound effects never really standing out above one another. The directionality isn't utilized as well as it could have been, and the LFE is rather muted in many respects. English and Spanish subtitles are included here.

For lighter bonus features there's an Isolated Score track and some trailers for other Mel Brooks films. "Funny Men in Tights: Three Generations of Comedy" (13:49) features interviews with cast members and looks at the generational gap of some of the actors. "Robin Hood: Men in Tights – The Legend Had It Coming HBO Special" (26:14) was an old HBO feature that looked at the production of the film, featured cast interviews, and offered behind the scenes shots. Both of these features are definitely worth checking out, but for my money the highlight of this disc is the audio commentary by Mel Brooks. This one is a classic in terms of commentaries, since it's been around for years, but it's also charming, hilarious, and offers plenty of insight into the film.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights may not be the greatest piece of work on Mel's resume, but it's a comedy film with plenty of laughs and charm. It's full of staple gags and jokes and offers a few moments where the material rises above. The strength here is in its cast for sure, though the script is endearing as well. The Blu-ray offers decent quality in terms of video and audio, though it's not necessarily a standout in that regard. The bonus features are a nice touch here, however, and overall the disc is worth picking up.

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About Todd Douglass

  • Of course it’s stupid. Mel Brooks doesn’t write films meant for anyone to take seriously. Still, this is one of my favorites. Elwes is solid as a comedian.