Mel Brooks paved the way for movie parodies in 1974 with two runaway hits, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." But unfortunately, the marketplace is now overcrowded.
Though a few lame efforts by others surrounded Brooks' next couple of parodies, "Silent Movie" and "High Anxiety," none really made a dent until 1980, when the Zucker Brothers & Jim Abrahams teamed up for "Airplane!" And ever since, audiences have been inundated with them . . . especially since the Zuckers ("Naked Gun") and Abrahams ("Hot Shots!") went their separate ways.
Once again throwing his feathered cap into the ring, Brooks is back with "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," which takes on a movie character he's already tackled (with his 1975 TV series, "When Things Were Rotten") and includes far too many reverential references to his own earlier films. The unfortunate result is a reminder of how inspired "Young Frankenstein" was, for example, compared to the lowbrow humor that just goes lower and the vulgar gags that just get more vulgar in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."
In other words, if an animal is in a scene, it is sure to defecate. If a woman is wearing a low-cut dress, there's sure to be a breast joke.
Still, that old Brooks brilliance does flash occasionally, and for fans, that may be enough.
The film begins with Robin incarcerated in Jerusalem, plotting escape with a beefy fellow prisoner named Asneeze (Isaac Hayes). They escape and Robin swims home yes, swims home. Once he gets to England, the familiar plot devices fighting Little John on a bridge, taking on the evil Sheriff, showing off at the archery match, etc. all kick into gear.
Cary Elwes, who proved himself adept at deadpan humor in "The Princess Bride" and "Hot Shots!" here plays Robin with goofball aplomb, as an expert marksman who is a bit on the obtuse side. Amy Yasbeck, as Maid Marian, is also playing with less than a full deck and is burdened with a bulky chastity belt.
As Robin's main sidekick, Ahchoo is played by standup comic Dave Chappelle, and the chief villains are the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees doing a wicked take on Alan Rickman's sheriff in the Costner film) and Prince John (standup comic Richard Lewis, who does not fare as well). An unrecognizable Tracey Ullman is Latrine, the witch.
Brooks himself shows up, doing his expected Jewish shtick, as Rabbi Tuckman.
Highlights are provided by production numbers particularly a rap song that frames the film (with rappers who segue nicely into "Hey nonny-nonny") and the hysterical "Men in Tights" chorus.
Brooks steals blatantly from and frequently refers to his own past films, and, naturally, tries to prove that no joke is too hoary, nor is any pun too obvious. Believe it or not, Brooks uses the "Walk this way" bit again, and when the sheriff threatens a mime, Prince John comes to his aid with this line: "A mime is a terrible thing to waste."
In short, it's another hit-or-miss affair, with the balance sheet top-heavy with misses.
"Robin Hood: Men in Tights" is rated PG-13 for a steady stream of vulgar gags and sexual innuendoes, swashbuckling (but bloodless) violence, profanity and partial nudity (Yasbeck, showing off her chastity belt).