There’s nothing quite like watching a Mel Brooks comedy. His films always have some high concept setup, like a Star Wars spoof, an old western, or in this case, the tale of Robin Hood. Of course, they’re never really close to their source material at all, as his movies are largely comedic playgrounds for different jokes and bits. While ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ isn’t quite as great as Blazing saddles or Spaceballs in comparison, it still offers a ton of laughs, and some of the best ‘meta’ humor I’ve seen in a comedy.
Men in Tights stars Cary Elwes (Princess Bride) as the titular prince of thieves. It uses the original story and characters loosely, as it follows Robin escaping from prison after the Crusades to go home to England, with the help of a cellmate (a great cameo by Isaac Hayes). The man asks Robin to promise him that when he gets to England, he will keep watch over his son (a young Dave Chappelle in his film debut). Upon getting home, Robin realizes that his family is dead, and his land has been taken over and heavily taxed by Prince John and his sheriff of ‘Rottingham’. If that sounds just like your normal Robin Hood story, keep in mind that the whole thing is littered with great and goofy humor, in typical Mel Brooks fashion. The end in particular has another great cameo, and one of the best callbacks I’ve seen in a movie (back to Blazing Saddles, no less)
I knew I was in for a damn good time right when the movie began. A 90’s hip-hop beat comes in and a rap group dressed like the merry men introduce the setting. It sets the tone perfectly for the incredibly wacky movie that follows. I also loved how meta this movie got. I don’t remember Blazing Saddles or Spaceballs being so self-aware, but some of the best jokes in Robin Hood come from characters either breaking the fourth wall or acknowledging their existence in a movie. I love when movies or shows use the frame as part of their painting. From breaking through the set in a sword fight and hitting the crew, to characters pulling out the script to see what happens next, it’s really hilarious stuff.
Another thing I realized while watching this movie, was how Brooks differs in making comedies compared to other writer/directors. While some feed off of their environment and surroundings for jokes, he generally has the same voice throughout all of his comedies. It’s pretty incredible that he’s made medieval, Sci-Fi, and western comedies and yet you always know when your watching a Mel Brooks movie.