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New ‘Robin Hood’ wildly off-target

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There are few characters that have had as many different Hollywood love affairs as Robin Hood. The legendary outlaw with the “rob from the rich, give to the poor” ethos has been featured on the big screen since the medium’s beginnings – his first cinematic appearance was in “Robin Hood and His Merry Men” back in 1908. Over the subsequent century-plus, the character has turned up scores of times on screens large and small alike.

Which begs the question: did we NEED another Robin Hood movie?

The answer, if we’re going by the Otto Bathurst-directed, Taron Egerton-starring “Robin Hood,” is a resounding “no.” It’s a clunky, uneven effort at reimagining the character; the narrative defies logic and the action defies physics. Efforts to be edgy feel tryhard and condescending. The end result is a jarring mess of a movie, a joyless slog that feels like nothing else so much as a waste of your time.

Egerton is Robin of Loxley, lord of a manor in Nottingham. His lady love (who he meets when she tries to steal one of his horses) is Marian (Eve Hewson, “Papillon”); they implausibly fall in love despite their class differences and everything is great. That is, until Robin is drafted into the military by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn, “Ready Player One”) and sent off to fight in the Crusades.

For four years, Robin fights the Arabian forces in the Middle East. It all changes when he tries to prevent a young man’s execution on the battlefield. Due to Robin’s noble background, his superior officer Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Anderson, TV’s “Peaky Blinders”) has him sent home rather than killed for his treasonous act.

Upon his return, Robin learns that the Sheriff declared him dead two years prior, seizing his property and evicting Marian. While his old friend Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin, TV’s “Squinters”) is still in his corner, he learns that Marian has found new love in the rabblerousing Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan, “Fifty Shades Freed”). Still reeling, he’s confronted by John (Jamie Foxx, “Baby Driver”), the man whose son Robin tried to save back on the battlefield. John stowed away on Robin’s ship and followed him back to Nottingham for … reasons? His rationale isn’t really clear, though that’s par for the course here; this movie never met a set of rails it didn’t want to jump off.

Anyway, John wants to train Robin to become a thief so that he can steal the money that is financing the war against his people and thus end it while ALSO reassuming his role as nobleman and trying to get into the Sheriff’s political inner circle. Robin agrees because of revenge or something – again, actual rationales behind decisions don’t really exist here – and becomes the Hood, a mysterious figure stealing from the coffers of the Sheriff and of the Church (which is SUPER corrupt, so it’s totally OK) and kind of gives it back to the people who have been driven into poverty by the Sheriff’s war tax.

It turns out that – surprise! – there’s more to it. Robin must find a way to undermine the various schemes afoot if he’s to have any hope of helping the people and stopping the war or whatever it is that he’s trying to do. Seriously – the bad guy schemes are as incoherent as the rest of it, so who the hell knows why anyone is doing what they’re doing?

So yeah – this movie is BAD. Leaving aside the head-scratching choice to do a new Robin Hood movie just a few years after 2010’s mediocre Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe rendition of the character, there’s just no reason for this movie to be. It fails on just about every conceivable level, from the nonsensical hole-filled plot to the greyed-out aesthetic to the tepid performances to the clunky action sequences.

Director Otto Bathurst makes his big-screen debut here – his prior work was in television – and the inexperience shows. The visual style is inconsistent and disengaged; there’s an overreliance on wide overhead shots that is off-putting. Not that he had much of a chance with that cart crash of a script; first-time screenwriters Ben Chandler and David James Kelly have put together a messy, slapdash story jammed with incongruities.

Quality action might have helped salvage some value, but it’s all either jittery chaos or syrupy slow-motion – none of it generates any kind of visceral energy. It’s boring and poorly executed, both in terms of choreography and effects work.

I think we have to accept the fact that Taron Egerton is not going to be a movie star. While I understand the impulse, the kid just doesn’t have it. He’s talented enough, but he doesn’t have nearly the wattage to carry a film this big, even if it is a stinker. His Robin Hood is all smirks and unconvincing bluster, with zero depth. In short – stop trying to make Taron Egerton happen.

The rest of the cast’s luck is no better. Foxx’s presence is inexplicable; maybe he owed somebody money? It’s a paycheck part for sure; he spends half his scenes checked out, already hanging poolside at the new beach house this role bought him. Dawson might be giving the most honest effort of anyone, as much good as it does. Mendelsohn is too good to be here and he knows it; he half-heartedly gnaws some scenery, but it never feels genuine. Dornan and Minchin and Anderson are forgettable, while F. Murray Abraham – who shows up late in the film – is, you know … here.

“Robin Hood” is an absolute misfire, the result of a host of regrettable decisions. Rest assured – you’ll be anything but merry when you leave this one; the only thing this Robin Hood steals is two hours of your life that you’ll never get back.

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