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Robin Hood off target

DARTH Vader. Batman. Captain James T. Kirk. Now another legendary figure gets the origin-story treatment in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood."

The world probably did not need another version of this famous tale, even though it arrives with outstanding production values and an impeccable pedigree. Besides Scott, the script comes from Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential" writer Brian Helgeland, and the heavyweight cast is anchored by Russell Crowe (pictured above) as the title character and Cate Blanchett as Marian. Solid support comes from Mark Strong, William Hurt, Eileen Atkins, Matthew Macfadyen and Max von Sydow.

This Robin Hood is not a man in tights and not even robbing from the rich and giving to the poor just yet, but he is rather an expert archer in the crusading army of King Richard the Lionheart at the turn of the 13th century.

Working with "Gladiator" director Scott for the fifth time, Crowe is hulking and overly serious, and the same can be said of "Robin Hood" itself. With its sweeping scope and tangible grittiness, it does look great: an old-fashioned epic jazzed up with new technology. Several moments stand out for their imagery, including vast aerial shots and the sight of hundreds of arrows zipping through the air and landing in a thunderous shower.

But then the brawny battle scenes, which set this incarnation apart from its lilting and swashbuckling predecessors, are shot and edited in such a chaotic, choppy way, it is nearly impossible to tell what is happening. They are all frenzied, kinetic energy. The climactic showdown is chock full of cliches, including Robin yelling "Noooo!" in slow motion; meanwhile, other members of his posse magically hit their targets at just the right opportune moment.

Long before that - we do mean long before that - the convoluted plot finds Crowe's Robin Longstride serving in the king's army against the French. Once the king dies, Robin returns to England and assumes the identity of one of Richard's noblemen in order to bring back the crown, which then goes to the king's cocky, tax-happy brother, John (Oscar Isaac).

The new king's right-hand man, Godfrey (convincing villain Strong), encourages him but is also in cahoots with the French. But Robin also visits the dead man's home in Nottingham to return his sword to his blind and aging father, Sir Walter Loxley, played by von Sydow with exquisite humor and dignity. There he meets Lady Marian, who was married to Loxley's son for all of a cup of coffee before he went off to battle. This is no delicate damsel but rather a thick-skinned pragmatist who knows her way around a sword; Blanchett is fierce.

Robin also assumes the identity of Marian's husband to keep up appearances and allow the family to retain its property, and so it is no surprise when they end up falling for each other for real. Crowe and Blanchett's scenes are compelling primarily because they allow us to watch two bona fide movie stars, ones who can really act, sharing the screen as well as some snappy banter. When the movie feels the need to spell out their emotional connection, however, it turns mundane.

Eventually, Robin assembles a band of men, some of whom are kind of merry, to take on the French invasion. As they storm the beaches of England, it is all very "Saving Private Ryan." But bringing to mind the superior epics that "Robin Hood" resembles does not exactly help its cause.


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