Guilty Pleasures: Nerd of Noir

In later years I would recognize that Kevin Costner once made good films. Films like No Way Out, Revenge, Bull Durham, The Untouchables – guy won a directing Oscar for Dances With Wolves, even. But on my eighth birthday at the Pavillion Theater, Kevin Costner was not some actor playing a role. No, he was fucking Robin Hood in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

A fan of adventure films since I started, you know, watching movies, for those two hours plus in that dinky little theater Kevin Costner managed to fill the void left in my little heart since that sad day, December 31, 1989, when Harrison Ford slipped into a permanent coma. But while Costner may have been playing at being the Harrison Ford of the nineties, a heroic and cool matinee idol to a new wave of little boys, neither Robin Hood nor the far more infamous Waterworld (which I also like but will leave for a far braver soul than I to defend) have since had quite the home video shelf life of, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And I’m not here to claim that either film should be all that fondly remembered. Raiders and, to a lesser extent, the following two Indiana Jones films (and remember, there was no fourth as Harrison wasn’t awake for the production, the poor man) are films that, unlike many in the Gen-X nostalgia canon, hold up very well. But when I talk about my fondness for Robin Hood to a Gen-Xer they get that horrified look on their face that I’m told I get when they talk about what a genius John Hughes was. (I’ll give you that Ferris Bueller was rock solid but beyond that? Fucking yikes.)

Which, you know, is understandable. The faults of RH: PoT are many. Costner doesn’t even attempt an English accent while Christian Slater as Will Scarlett gives it a go then quickly abandons it. (I like to imagine Slater on the set, pouting to the director, “Well if he’s not gonna do the accent why do I have to?”) Political correctness quotas of the day being at the ridiculous levels they were, Robin gets not only his merry men to play off of but Azeem, a straight-laced Muslim “moor” played by Morgan Freeman for some bewildering reason. Maid Marian is played by a seemingly game but ultimately charm-free Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the Bryan Adams schmaltz classic, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” playing over her and Robin’s pivotal romantic scene certainly not bringing much heat to the moment. Then there’s the cheesy humor which, though it may strive for a Spielbergian vintage ends up more around “government” level. (“Blimey! They cleared it!”)

But what draws me to the film even today is some of the same reasons I still love Raiders, the ridiculously gross violence and often dark tone applied to what is ultimately a summer kids adventure being chief amongst those reasons. This is a film that opens with Robin and Azeem trapped in a Turkish prison during the Crusades, the two about to get their hands lopped off with a flaming scimitar. Then we meet Robin’s father’s manservant who has had his eyes cut out. Later a little kid narrowly escapes being hanged by a scary-looking executioner, the executioner then taking a flaming arrow to the brain. The climax of the film is Robin trying to save Marian from being raped by the Sheriff of Nottingham, for fuck’s sake.

Oh! The aforementioned Sheriff? Played by none other than Alan Rickman, the undisputed king of hammy villains. Dude chews up scenery like a lunatic until his hilariously overwrought death scene. Guy even has an ugly, spooky-ass witch for a right hand, um, woman to make him extra creepy, I guess.

And say what you will about the workman-like Kevin Reynolds as a director, but his action scenes are never anything less than crystal-fucking-clear. Not even Christopher Nolan can claim that distinction – the fight scenes in Batman Begins look more like a fucking Stan Brakhage scratch film than a multi-million dollar-budgeted studio film production. (Jesus Christ, went to the vault with that reference – who am I now? Dennis Miller or some shit?)

Obviously, those reasons do not stack up to a film as lasting as a classic Spielberg adventure, but the Gen-Ys got Hook Spielberg, not Indiana Jones Spielberg. We had to look elsewhere for our cinematic heroes, dammit, and Kevins Costner and Reynolds rose unsteadily to the challenge. I think they did a pretty good job…just don’t ask me to look you dead in the face when I say that.

The Nerd of Noir is also known as Pete Dragovich of St Paul. He writes for Spinetingler Magazine (www.spinetinglermag.com) and Crime Factory Magazine (www.crimefactoryzine.com). Links to all his reviews and articles can be found at his blog http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com You can read his decidedly filthy observations regarding popular culture and daily life along with 140 character movie reviews on his twitter account www.twitter.com/nerdofnoir He figures that’s enough self-pimping for now.