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KIDS ON FILM

Made Merry by Brooks' 'Robin Hood'

August 05, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

In "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" director/co-writer Mel Brooks applies his usual broad humor to the oft-told Sherwood Forest tale, drawing particularly from the Kevin Costner "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." Pausing every few seconds for a pun, pratfall or double-entendre, Robin and his Merry Men do their usual amount of cudgeling, rescuing of Maid Marian and rousting of the Sheriff, known as Rottingham in this farce, which is rated PG-13 for some off-color humor.

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One needn't conduct a demographic study to find which age group most enjoys Mel Brooks' brand of humor these days: The high pitch of the giggles and guffaws heard during his "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" provided the answer during a recent screening at the AMC MainPlace Six in Santa Ana.

Whereas parents surveyed afterward generally rated the film somewhere between enjoyable and endurable, kids were unbridled in their enthusiasm.

"I was cracking up. I loved it," gushed Jennifer Del Vecchio, 14, as brothers Greg, 12, and Brian, 10, nodded their assent. "It was the best movie," said Jennifer, "and I've seen five or six this summer. I liked all of it." Brooks' "Spaceballs," by the way, is her favorite all-time movie even though, she acknowledges, "everybody else thinks I'm stupid because of that."

Asked which parts of the movie they're most likely to tell their friends about, the siblings agreed on the song-and-dance numbers, including a rap tune that opens the film and a giddy chorus line of Merry Men singing "Men in Tights."

As with the other kids queried, Jennifer thought it was necessary to have seen the Costner film to get many of the jokes in this "Hood," which stars Cary Elwes ("Hot Shots," "The Princess Bride") in the title role. And, like other kids, she said she liked this a lot more than she liked the Costner film.

Her sole reservation: She thought some of the jokes were aimed over kids' heads. Brother Brian agreed: "I didn't get some of the jokes either, but I don't remember what they were because I was laughing too much."

Brooks doesn't mess much with the basic Robin Hood formula: The hero returns from the Crusades, finds Prince John (Richard Lewis here, with a mobile mole on his face) and the Sheriff (Roger Rees) exploiting the people, and sets things right with his bow and sword.

The slapstick humor, jokes at the expense of the blind and overwrought parodies of Costner's "Hood" and other recent films shouldn't be lost on kids. Other jokes, such as an assassin firing on Robin from a "Royal Folio Depository," might not click.

Meanwhile, the risque bits--Maid Marian sports a chastity belt in this adaptation--received a very mixed response. Some kids found them incomprehensible, others thought they were among the funniest scenes, and 12-year-old Elizabeth Pound said she "didn't like the parts that had sexual references. I thought that was unnecessary."

For 10-year-old Tommy Volland, though, the funniest part (next to Prince John's mole) was the final scene, in which, after much anticipation, Robin finds his key won't unlock Marian's "charity belt," as Tommy called it.

Brandon Kasper, 9, got a similar rise out of a scene in which the Merry Men, watching Robin and Marian's shadows on a sheet, mistake Robin's sword for another appendage.

That scene and others caused Gladys Galloway, who brought two grandchildren, to say she "thought it was an inappropriate movie for children. I wouldn't have brought them had I known."

Other adults might be offended by the seeming lack of effort that went into the script, which leaves an otherwise likable cast with very few moments of inspiration. Although it does come off as more spirited and sprightly than the film it parodies, that may be because "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" is one of the most bloated, leaden movies of modern times.

Brooks' film is not entirely without humor and charm, but kids and parents alike may find more of both qualities huddled around the VCR watching Rob Reiner's "The Princess Bride" or Monty Python's forays into British history.

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