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Lost In the (new) Hood

It’s easy to see why the legend of Robin Hood lives on and on as an essential big screen vehicle, as it allows for pungent flourishes of pageantry, romance, violence, and the eternally appealing defense of the common man, and it’s rebel-with-a-cause (plus a bow and arrow) central figure must be as appealing to a big name actor as it might be intoxicating to his director to provide said actor with the aforementioned ornamentations.

It’s equally easy to understand why long time collaborators Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, A Good Year, Body of Lies, and, most pertinent to this outing, Gladiator) would leap at the undertaking of revisiting the Robin Hood mythology. Crowe has the unarguable presence for such a spotlight role, and Scott has both the pedigree and the mentality to deliver his star to some greater cinematic glories. Their new film, Robin Hood, is muscular and sinewy, impeccably burnished and floridly filmed, totally flowing with populist ideology. Crowe stands erect throughout, emanating his particular brawny brand of minimalism, yet the movie seems devoid of passion or warmth and absolutely lacks any sense of the dashing tomfoolery that usually part and parcel of the landscape. It’s a ponderously gloomy origins tale, and after two and a half bombastic hours you’ll be zapped of both interest and energy.

Scott, a certified Hack Auteur, has an undeniably dexterous touch with action set pieces, and he delivers those goods as only he can, orchestrating half-dozen show-and-tells of 12th century warfare brutality, with intermittent valorous speeches from the far too taciturn Crowe. The film’s busy canvas also follows the travails of a moat full of pointed characters, including a fiery Cate Blanchett as a Marian with no trace of romantic chemistry with Crowe’s Robin, the ever felicitous Mark Strong as a conniving French villain, and solid types like Mark Addy, William Hurt, and Max von Sydow and the always interesting Danny Huston doing their bits ably.

Through the years the basic Robin Hood socio-political terrain has remained an audience-pleaser, although this Robin Hood doesn’t steal from the rich and give to the pour, instead preferring to penetrate multiple chain mail armaments in the name of fighting the holy battle against taxation without representation, bold flirting with Tea Party version of egalitarianism.

In the long run, every film Robin Hood, whether it be Douglas Fairbanks, Bugs Bunny, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe, has be unjust compared to the indomitable Errol Flynn from Michael Curtiz’s 1938 Technicolor wonderThe Adventures of Robin Hood. Yet another man -of -the- people, thoroughly illuminated by the Hollywood dream factory in its prime, Flynn’s Robin set unbeatable standards for heroic magnetism, rollicking manliness, eye-winking plumery, all the while providing he and the audience with resolute fun and deep-boned cinematic gratification that the well meaning but oh-so-ponderous team of Crowe and Scott simply can’t touch, however austerely  they borough into the (new) Hood

The Curtiz (old) Hood movie is eye candy of the highest order, a glistening helping of Hollywood classicism is unadulterated pleasure viewing. The movie won three deserved Oscars (Art Direction, Editing, Score) and it is ably burnished by the always capable Michael Curtiz, a perfectly paced and sumptuously filmed adventure tale, with the perfect coupling of Errol Flynn (effortlessly dashing) and Olivia de Havilland (rapturously beautiful), sprinkled with a typically first class supporting cast (Alan Hale, Claude Rains, Ian Hunter) and a devilishly villainous Basil Rathbone. The (new) Hood is passionless and resolutely uninspiring, a costumed dirge for contempo audiences largely unwilling or unready to be truly transported into a blissful state of artful imagination. The (old) Hood is absolute dream machine opium, once embraced by a viewing public unfettered by anything other than resolute professionalism and into-the-vein entertainment values.