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Thickheaded as Thieves

Robin Hood (2010)

David Appleby/Universal Studios

You don’t need to see Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” to know exactly what you’d be in for if you did. For that, one need only look to the director’s “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” or, failing those, any swords-and-sandals Hollywood epic set in medieval England.

The charm and underdog attitude of the bandit of Sherwood Forest and his merry men have been scrubbed out, replaced by Russell Crowe’s intensely serious visage, a glum story about unjust taxation and expertly choreographed large-scale action scenes that are anathematic to the personality-driven legend.

The film, scripted by Brian Helgeland, adopts the overused “origin story” tack, which further propels it to big-budget tedium. The narrative is centered on expert archer Robin Longstride (Mr. Crowe), who through severely convoluted circumstances finds he is at the helm of a vast British effort to repel an invading French force during the reign of King John (Oscar Isaac) in 1199 A.D. At his side, metaphorically at least, are Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett) and the villagers of Nottingham.

This “Robin of the Hood” is no outlaw: He’s an emotionally wounded moral leader counted on to give big inspirational speeches, lead troops into battle and affect a slow-motion growl in close-up in that patented Russell Crowe fashion. Mistaking cinematic conventions for realism, Messrs. Scott and Crowe suck the personality out of the character, transforming him into a dry, humorless sod. The star poses rather than acts.

The rest of the movie halfheartedly cycles through the usual standards. The battles feature such hallmarks as P.O.V. arrow shots, sweeping pans across the rolling hills of the English countryside and the screams and crunches of sword fights with the sound design amped up to 11. The close-knit Nottingham, with its propensity for joyous communal celebrations, recalls the Shire of “Lord of the Rings.” Hans Zimmer offers a swelling score. William Hurt, as King John’s adviser William Marshall, looks very, very concerned; while Mark Strong (“Sherlock Holmes,” “Kick-Ass”) plays yet another menacing villain.

This lack of imagination might not matter were any of “Robin Hood” rendered with real feeling, but it’s not. Mr. Scott is too skilled a filmmaker to ever make an irredeemably terrible movie; and “Robin Hood” — imbued with strong production values — periodically entertains in spite of itself. Yet there’s no emotion in Mr. Scott’s direction, no sense of import or danger in the task facing his protagonist. Half the picture consists of epic cinema claptrap, the other half babbling about taxes and justice, among other flagrant stabs at topicality. Occasionally, the twain do meet. It’s not really a Robin Hood story at all; a better title might have been “Epic Movie.”


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