Robin Hood: Men in Tights (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Anyone remotely familiar with the Robin Hood legend knows the basic story behind this parody. Robin (Cary Elwes) is the dashing hero who, along with his band of Merry Men (which includes members Will Scarlet O'Hara and Achoo the Moor), roams Sherwood Forest as the champion of the common people. His sworn enemy is the evil Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees), and his One True Love is Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck), she of the Everlast chastity belt. To win the heart and hand of Marian, Robin must defeat the Sheriff and his master, Prince John (Richard Lewis).

Imagine an amalgamation of The Naked Gun, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and you have a pretty good idea what to expect from Men in Tights. This is a film packed start-to-finish with satire, puns, one-liners, and other assorted visual and audio jokes. Nothing is too high-brow or low-brow for Mel Brooks, although you can bet there are more occurrences of earthy humor than that of the intellectual variety. Every opportunity for a laugh, no matter how feeble or juvenile, is seized upon.

There have been several parodies already this year (Loaded Weapon One, Hot Shots Part Deux, and Last Action Hero come to mind), none of which have attained the level of Men in Tights. That's not to say this is a masterpiece of any sort, but, clunkers aside, the jokes are more consistently funny than those in the other movies. In a Hot Shots-type film, the humor gets stale by the end of the first half-hour, and most of the laughs have dried up long before the final credits roll. Mel Brooks, on the other hand, has enough experience with this kind of motion picture that he knows to vary the humor so that the gags don't wear thin before the running time has expired. In many ways, this isn't too far removed from the Mel Brooks of old, the master of humor who brought us classics like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. While Men in Tights is not nearly as inventive as those offerings, it's equally far removed from such Brooks duds as Life Stinks.

There's a fairly strong element of Monty Python here. While no one in their right mind would put this film on the same level as The Holy Grail, there are moments of Men in Tights that the British comedy troupe would be proud of. Most notably, perhaps, is the rendition of the musical number, "Men in Tights", which bears a passing resemblance to the Pythons' "Lumberjack Song".

In a story that closely parallels the Kevin Costner account, Cary Elwes does his best Errol Flynn imitation -- a fine job of pretending to be serious and heroic amidst all the silliness around him. The other major players give reasonable accounts of themselves, from Roger Rees trying to match Alan Rickman's Prince of Thieves overacting to a subdued Amy Yasbeck. As is frequently the case, those with cameos steal the film. Dom DeLuise shows up for one scene to lampoon Marlon Brando from The Godfather and Patrick Stewart is on hand to imitate Sean Connery's King Richard from Prince of Thieves.

There are so many jokes that it's difficult to pick out anything memorable. Among the more subtle ones, I was partial to the "moving mole" on Richard Lewis' face. Nearly every time we see Prince John, his rather sizeable mole has moved somewhere else. At one point, the Sheriff even feels compelled to mention this. Then there's Mel Brooks as Rabbi Tuckman (instead of Friar Tuck), who gives "half off" circumcisions. Most of the overblown musical numbers are also fun, with obviously-dubbed singing voices and rappers fulfilling the function of a Greek Chorus.

Parodies are hard to do well, as is shown by the mediocrity of so many recent attempts. No matter how ripe a genre is for satirizing, unless you know how to do it, there are no guarantees. Fortunately for Men in Tights, Mel Brooks has been doing this kind of thing for decades. The ads say that "the legend had it coming", and this film certainly dishes out all that the Merry Men can handle - and more.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (United States, 1993)

Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Cary Elwes, Roger Rees, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Lewis, Tracey Ullman
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Evan Chandler, and J. David Shapiro
Music: Hummie Mann
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 1993-07-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1