April 17, 2015

Revisit: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the story of how Alan Rickman can single-handedly redeem a shitty motion picture through sheer force of personality and comic timing.

When Kevin Costner came in at #2 on my list of worst actors in the history of ever, I had this to say about him: "Will be remembered long after his death for delivering the worst Robin Hood of all time. Russell Crowe weeps nightly that his awful Robin Hood will be forgotten while Costner's lives on." I said this because it is absolutely true. The Robin Hood Costner gives us in Prince of Thieves is the unquestionable worst Robin Hood ever. The anthropomorphic fox Robin Hood was more believable. You gave a better performance as Robin Hood when you were 8 years old running around your backyard with an imaginary bow and arrow. Yes, you, even if you're a woman. That's how bad Costner's performance is. It's not just the worst Robin Hood performance in the history of film. It's one of the worst performances period, of any role, at any time, in any medium. It's lazy non-acting that would give William Hurt pause. Orlando Bloom would tell him to step up and act for fuck's sake.

Have you ever tried to put on an English accent? No matter how bad? So bad people didn't even know what accent you were going for? Congratulations, you put in more effort than Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves. I mean, he doesn't even try. It's so obvious it provided the only funny gag in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Costner refuses to adopt an accent, refuses to emote, refuses to fucking act. He doesn't even puff up to the level of an epic fairy tale. Instead, he's the mumblecore Adam, wheezing out his lines like he's trying to clear his lungs of ennui. I can think of no one less appropriate to play possibly the most free-spirited, swashbuckling hero in the Western canon.

The only miscasting that comes within a country mile of Costner's is that of professional Jack Nicholson impersonator Christian Slater. What's the deal with this asshole, anyway? I mean, he fails to embarrass himself in one good movie, and that's a career? Slater has exactly one acting technique: He copies Jack Nicholson's distinctive vocal cadence. That's it. That was enough, in Hollywood in the 1990s, to make you a star.

Let's pretend, for a moment, that what the world needed was an actor whose whole schtick is imitating another, better actor. That doesn't explain what the hell he's doing in a Robin Hood movie. I like Jack Nicholson. Hell, I love Jack Nicholson. You could even say I want to have Jack Nicholson's babies. Violent, womanizing babies perpetually high on very fine-grade cocaine. But Jack Nicholson is not a background presence, nor is he appropriate for period pieces. You don't cast him as Richard III or the First Emperor, because he's too modern. A '60s hippie? Right on! A hardboiled '70s private eye? Okay. A murderous hotel caretaker in the '80s? Bam! A hardass Marine colonel in the '90s? Sure. A pathetic sadsack in the '00s? Yep, you can put him there, too. Where you can't put him is in fucking Robin Hood, with Little John and Friar Tuck and Maid fucking Marian. So of course the jokers behind this clunker cast not Jack Nicholson, but a terrible impersonator of Jack Nicholson. What's next, raiding MADtv roll call to cast your movie? Oh wait....

Slater plays Will Scarlet, Robin Hood's long-lost bastard younger brother. Because that's just what the Robin Hood legend needed, right? I guess it's fitting, though, to cast an anachronistic actor like Slater (who simply screams "I'm from the '90s", even more than Neo in Dangerous Liaisons and Bram Stoker's Fucking Not Dracula) in an anachronistic role like Will Scarlet, who's all butthurt about Robin not accepting him as a brother and hates him for it for most of the movie. As if the bastard son of a noble in 12th-century England would harbor that as his Secret Pain. And against Robin, even though it was their father that refused to acknowledge him. He's lucky Robin doesn't have him executed for claiming to be Lord Locksley's son, which is what would've happened in that period if some random asshole suddenly told a lord's legitimate son that he was his illegitimate brother. Instead, Will is resentful and generally dickish to Robin before tearfully revealing The Secret, after which they hug while sappy music plays. It's medieval times, by way of early '90s angst!

I guess I have to say something about the two good performances--well, one good and one brilliant. Morgan Freeman is good in the film as Azeem, the Moor who owes Robin a life debt for breaking him out of prison (though this one can be repaid by saving Robin's life, which Azeem thankfully does so Freeman wouldn't have to come back for a sequel). He's not great, though, and I have a theory (that I absolutely cannot prove) that Freeman did this on purpose. Once he realized that Costner was either unwilling or unable (or, as I suspect, both) to actually act, he decided (correctly) that giving a moving, powerful performance would both 1) show up the movie's star and 2) fail to jive with everyone else on screen. Now Freeman, at least before he was forced at gunpoint to appear in Olympus Has Fallen and thereafter stopped caring about movies, was incapable of giving a bad performance, but he made sure not to be too good here so as not to emphasize how godawful Costner is.

The same cannot be said for Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Director Kevin Reynolds (who would fail to learn from his mistake and go on to direct Costner's lifeless corpse in Waterworld) must have mistaken Costner's lethargy that threatens to tank the entire movie for an artistic decision to make the Robin Hood legend "more realistic" (meaning grim, gritty, and no damn fun at all), so the Robin/Merry Men/Sherwood Forest scenes are all dour, drab, and dingy. Rickman, on the other hand, apparently decided to sod this movie and instead star in his own, better movie. All of his scenes are lively, funny, and endless entertaining. He's both devious and hilarious, slimy yet somehow charming at the same time. Rickman is hardly ever onscreen with Costner (so much so that I wonder if his contract specified a limit to his interaction with the sack of shit in the title role), so he didn't have to worry about showing Costner up or matching the flat nonperformances of everyone else. Or maybe he just didn't care. Either way, the film lights up into being almost decent every time Rickman appears, then sinks back into malaise as we get back to the "action" of Costner not emoting while Freeman struggles to be as bland as it's possible for him to be in order to match. When the Sheriff kidnaps Marian to force her to marry him, it beggars belief that she wants to be rescued by Robin. One of these two men is an international sex symbol, no matter how bad a haircut the filmmakers gave him for this movie, and the other is Kevin Costner. Marian only ends up with Robin because the Scriptmonster demands it.

Every movie could use more Alan Rickman in it, this one more than any other. Dumb as I was when this movie came out, even then the Sheriff was my favorite character and I missed him whenever he wasn't onscreen. Way to understand movies less than a grade school kid does, Hollywood filmmakers. Yes, the kid we're talking about here is me, but it doesn't take my then-undeveloped godlike intellect to tell that Kevin Costner is worse than dick cancer and you should never under any circumstances allow him to be in your movie. We're talking about a man who built a movie around himself as a cowboy and still got blown off the screen by Val fucking Kilmer. That's right, Costner couldn't do a better cowboy that Iceman. It's safe to say that this is when you pack up your balls and leave acting behind.

Mr. Costner, I know you're a cretinous humanoid automaton who used his clout to suppress a decent cowboy movie in favor your own personal shitty one, but as a self-appointed guardian of good taste, I have to impart to you one singular truth: Your movie is bad, and you should feel bad.