Last of Robin Hood, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/04/14 22:15:17
The trouble with most films that attempt to recreate the memories of the legendary movie stars of the past with those of the present is that the results almost invariably come across as embarrassing impressions that might pass muster at a Halloween party, especially one with an open bar, but which otherwise fail to convince in the slightest. Sure, sometimes you luck out and get something like Robert Downey Jr's eerie transformation into the skin of Charlie Chaplin in "Chaplin" (shame about the film as a whole) but most of the time, you get stuff on the level of Rod Steiger in "W.C. Fields & Me" and James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh in "Gable & Lombard" (and in each of those cases, I will let you figure out who played who). Therefore, it must be noted that the producers of "The Last Days of Robin Hood," a docudrama chronicling the relationship between over-the-hill swashbuckler Errol Flynn and his "protege" Beverly Aadland during the last couple of years of his life, struck the mother lode when they managed to get Kevin Kline to play Flynn. I can think of no other actor working today who could even come close to approximating the magnetic appeal of that most flamboyant of screen idols while still managing to give us a glimpse of the real person behind the lurid Lothario image that would both fuel and destroy his career.The trouble, alas, is that while the casting of Kline is indeed spot-on, absolutely nothing else about "The Last of Robin Hood" is. This is a cheaply made and monumentally incompetent docudrama that has been slapped together so indifferently that it never seems to have a clear idea of the story that it wants to tell or how it wants to tell it. In fact, it manages to do something that I would have previously considered to be an impossibility--it takes one of the juicier scandals in the annals of Tinseltown and somehow renders it boring and tedious beyond belief. Sure, it may have a couple of Oscar winners in its cast and a more compelling subject matter but when all is said and done, the qualitative differences between this and cheapo made-for-TV dross like that recent "Saved by the Bell" biopic--Kline's presence excepted--are so minute in scope that they hardly seem to exist at all.
For those who don't know the story, it starts in 1957 with Flynn, a long way from the days when he was one of the world's biggest movie stars thanks to blockbusters like "The Adventures of Robin Hood," grinding out a cheesy movie that found him playing his late friend and fellow lush John Barrymore (by this point, Flynn was almost exclusively playing drunks) when he made the acquaintance of Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), a starlet being groomed for bigger things by her overbearing stage mother Florence(Susan Sarandon) but who is currently marking time in the chorus line of a musical shooting on the same lot. Flynn is smitten and asks her to audition for a play he is doing--"audition," by the way, refers in this case to line reading, dinner and rape. Not the best way to begin a relationship, admittedly, but Flynn manages to turn her around with his not-inconsiderable charm and even when he discovers that she is actually only 15 years old, he cannot keep away even when common sense--not to mention his considerable legal problems a decade earlier involving a couple of 18-year-old girls--would dictate otherwise.
To help finesse things, Flynn gets the star-struck Florence on board with the relationship by bringing her into his elevated circles while assuring her that everything between him and Beverly is strictly on the up and up. Before long, Florence finally catches on to the true nature of the relationship between her daughter and the man old enough to be her grandfather but winds up going along with it in the hopes that it will lead to fame and attention for both Beverly and herself. Although Flynn is unable to forward Beverly's career with the studios--Stanley Kubrick rejects her for the title role of "Lolita," John Huston reduces her role opposite him in "The Roots of Heaven" to one line--and his attempt to launch her himself with the lead role in his self-financed pro-Castro exploitation classic "Cuban Rebel Girls" leads to predictably dire results, the two still remain together and indeed, when he does finally pass in 1959, it is in her arms, though not quite in the way you might think. Nevertheless, his passing and their illicit relationship ignites a post-mortem scandal of epic proportions that the increasingly unhinged Florence is determined to milk for all that it is worth even as it threatens to completely destroy her daughter.
There are any number of different approaches that one could utilize to recount the Flynn-Aadland scandal. From Flynn's perspective, it could tell the ironic tale of an infamous ladies man finally receiving his comeuppance for a lifetime of wreaking havoc upon the opposite sex. From Beverly's perspective, it could be the powerful and sad story of how a starlet with little going for her other than a pretty face, a famous boyfriend and an overbearing stage mother gets chewed up and spit out by the machinery of fame. Through Florence's eyes, it could be presented as a horrifying black comedy about a woman so desirous for even the slightest taste of reflected fame that she would cheerfully sacrifice her own daughter to achieve it. It could even be played out in a more objective manner that could properly underline the sad fact that things haven't changed that much in regards to celebrity and the place of young women in Hollywood in the last half-century or so. Any one of these takes, carefully cultivated, could have led to a fascinating and eye-opening look at one of the most infamous of all Hollywood sex scandals--one that even now makes most of today's examples of such seem like incredibly small potatoes by comparison.
The problem with "The Last of Robin Hood" is that the writing-directing team of Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland clearly has no idea of what kind of story they want to tell and instead change their approach to the material practically on a scene-by-scene basis that leaves the entire film muddled and confused as a result. This indecisiveness is most obvious in how they portray Florence Aadland--they can never figure out whether she is a woman trying to make the best of an impossible situation or a shameless opportunist of the worst kind and by bouncing back and forth between the two, the film winds up negating itself. Likewise, it never seems certain whether one should be outraged by the entire nature of the relationship between Errol and Beverly or feel somewhat more forgiving of what they shared despite its unseemly overtones and as a result, it is impossible to feel much of anything about it one way or another.
This confusion also extends to the performances as well for the most part. Kline manages to overcome the material because his impersonation of Flynn is so stellar that it makes up for the lack of dramatic coherence. However, Dakota Fanning, who usually brings a laser focus to her roles, seems curiously uncertain as to how to play Beverly and therefore does so in such a blandly indistinct manner that it is impossible to discern what appeal Beverly could have had for a man of the world like Flynn. Sarandon also seems lost at sea as Florence--even more so since she is stuck with the clumsy framing device that finds her telling all to an interviewer, even things she couldn't have possibly seen--and the best that can be said about her performance is that it is less embarrassing than her work earlier this year in the supremely awful "Tammy."Unless you have been waiting patiently for a feature film that would dare to replicate the production of the infamous "Cuban Rebel Girls" (a trash-film classic that really needs to be seen to be (dis)believed), "The Last of Robin Hood" has nothing to offer viewers other than the sad sight of a Kevin Kline performance utterly unworthy of the movie surrounding it. It probably isn't the worst biopic that you will ever see but considering both the subject matter and the amount of talent on hand here, it cannot be chalked up as anything other than one of the more perversely misfired recent example of the form. Put it this way--if you see only one film this year chronicling the declining years of a scandalous cinematic hero as he goes through his paces of kissing and jumping and drinking and humping, as it were, skip this one and wait until the next time that TCM shows "My Favorite Year."
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