Following not so hard on the heels of Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights marks the second entry in the latter stage of Mel Brooks’ directing career. While not totally lacking in its share of entertainment value, it definitely fails to deliver the subversive zing found in most of the earlier Brooks films like Blazing Saddles or even History of the World, Part I.
Like Spaceballs, the primary weakness of Men in Tights is that it focuses too narrowly on lampooning a single recent film, 1991’s Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, rather than the genre as a whole. Although the film does reference the original 1938 Errol Flynn classic in couple of spots, it’s not enough to salvage this film from being too easily dated. I wonder if audiences today would appreciate some of the contemporary pop culture references, like Nike Air shoes or a trademark of Arsenio Hall’s old talk show.
This film does have its inspired bits, like the introductory rap number, which combines hip-hop with period English music, but for the most part, the film’s humor misfires as often as it hits its mark. Brooks seems to go for the easy, obvious joke too often, telegraphing his punch line like Samuel Morse working the Improv.
Even with these faults, Men in Tights might be more watchable if not for one other deadly flaw, that being the abysmal miscasting of Richard Lewis. In theory, casting a neurotic Jewish comedian as Prince John could very easily be funny, but Lewis’s inert, uninspired performance, combined with lazy writing, stinks up the screen like a white elephant three days dead.
Dave Chapelle at least tries his best but his character of Ahchoo is saddled with some of Brooks’s lamest writing. His “Malcolm X in Sherwood Forest” bit is hilarious but sadly just a small part of Chapelle’s screen time.
I wish I could be more generous to this film, since certain parts are certainly praiseworthy. Carey Elwes gets a lot of well-earned laughs playing Robin Hood as a self-congratulatory windbag and makes good use of the sword training he received for The Princess Bride. Unfortunately, Elwes’s efforts are in the service of a film that tries too hard to achieve far too little.