'Robin Hood: The True Story' ('Robin des bois, la veritable histoire'): Film Review

Courtesy of Mars
No tights and not many merry men, either

French YouTube sensation Max Boublil reunites with his 'The Brats' director Anthony Marciano for this sort-of sendup of the hero from Sherwood Forest.

The title of the French comedy-drama Robin Hood: The True Story (Robin des bois, la veritable histoire) isn’t the only thing that doesn’t quite get things right. This second collaboration from writer-director Anthony Marciano and YouTube sensation turned actor-screenwriter Max Boublil completely re-imagines the do-gooder from Sherwood Forest in an anachronistic prequel, in which the young Robin and Tuck (no longer a friar but a gay Jewish Arab) only steal from the poor, women and kids, and Marianne (no longer a lady) and Little "Jean" (still not little) rally a group of merry misfits in the woods that want to defend the deprived and disadvantaged and force Robin to repay his debts. Unlikely to reach the heights of the co-writers’ previous joint effort, the surprise hit The Brats, which bowed in a similar April slot, this Robin nonetheless managed to sell almost 200,000 tickets over its first weekend in France, a very respectable if not outstanding number.

Hood (Boublil), a petty thief, is still a youngster here, barely 30 and with a beanpole body the color of snowed-under mozzarella. He has a perfectly homophobic — and not remotely funny — rapport with Tuck (Malik Bentalha), his gay sidekick, who’s obviously in love with him (a running gag has Tuck accusing Robin of homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism at every turn, but the execution of this potentially funny idea isn’t close to sharp enough). The king is supposedly dead and his 13-year-old son is on the throne, with the malevolent Sheriff of Nottingham (a scenery-chewing Gerard Darmon, best in show) acting as a regent. Many have fled into the woods, including Little John (Ary Abittan), the supposedly ugly Marianne (Geraldine Nakache, actually very pretty) and their rather bland band of outsiders, who have started to steal from the rich to give to the poor.

The film opens and will return several times to whooshy if always brief action sequences that are reminiscent of the work of Ridley Scott. But unlike the British director’s rather leaden (if tonally coherent) adaptation of the Hood saga, there are quite a few attempts at humor here, often of the childish variety, such as when Robin and Tuck hide in the bushes and a small regiment of soldiers they’re spying on decide to jointly take a pause pipi (bathroom break) and the youngsters get showered with urine. Also supposedly funny are such anachronistic elements as the helmet-wearing musical duo whose songs sound suspiciously like a minstrel-era version of Daft Punk. Unfortunately, the only belly laugh comes from a surprise cameo in the closing scene, but this will totally fly over the heads of audiences unfamiliar with popular French culture and its various incarnations of the Robin Hood story. 

The Brats, which co-starred comic heavyweight Alain Chabat (who’s sorely missed here), had its fair share of hilarious moments but wasn’t very strong in the story department, with scenes often only perfunctorily stitched together. Audiences can be forgiving if you give them enough to laugh about, but the main problem here is that there aren’t enough inspired gags — the film never devolves into Mel Brooks’ Men in Tights levels of silliness, with the costumes and sets mostly lived-in and grimy, suggesting how awful it must have been to have been a pauper in that time. It goes without saying that this is not necessarily fertile ground for comedy. The problem here is that the dramatic elements of the story that would be needed to support such a radical choice are scattershot and often weak, though Darmon certainly gives it his all in his villain role. 

Boublil’s comic talents, which rely on improvisation and a generally manic way of being, are too often hemmed in by the constraints of the costume drama and Hood’s preestablished persona, at least some elements of which are needed every now and again to at least justify using his name for this tonally messy adventure.

Production companies: Adamapictures, Mars Films, M6 Films, Umedia

Cast: Max Boublil, Geraldine Nakache, Malik Bentalha, Ary Abittan, Gerard Darmon, Patrick Timsit, Eric Metzger, Quentin Margot

Director: Anthony Marciano

Screenwriters: Max Boublil, Anthony Marciano

Producers: Ilan Goldman, Simon Istolainen

Director of photography: Jean-Paul Agostini

Production designer: Jean-Philippe Moreaux

Costume designer: Olivier Beriot

Editor: Samuel Danesi

Casting: Coralie Amedeo

Sales: Mars Distribution

 

No rating, 87 minutes

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