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Crowe’s Robin Hood Ditches Tights; Latifah Loves Hoops: Movies

Russell Crowe battles the enemy in Ridley Scott's ''Robin Hood.'' The film opens on May 14. Photographer: Greg Williams/Festival de Cannes via Bloomberg
Russell Crowe battles the enemy in Ridley Scott's ''Robin Hood.'' The film opens on May 14. Photographer: Greg Williams/Festival de Cannes via Bloomberg

May 15 (Bloomberg) -- In Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” the English archer/outlaw swaps his green tights and peaked hat for an armored suit. It’s not the only radical change in his legendary persona.

Yes, Robin Hood still robs from the rich and gives to the poor. But the conflicted hero also defends a country ruled by an oppressive king who taxes his subjects without giving them any individual rights. (Think American Revolution.)

While it’s a more nuanced portrait than we’ve seen in past movies and TV shows, the 2-hour, 20-minute film is hobbled by sluggish pacing and heavily accented dialogue that’s often impossible to decipher, especially when the lines are drowned out by the thunderous soundtrack.

Scott’s formula is simple: Take a studly actor (Russell Crowe, in his fifth collaboration with Scott) and classy actress (Cate Blanchett), mix with heavy period atmosphere (13th-century England and France), stir with rousing battle scenes and top with an historic event (King John’s signing of the Magna Carta). The result is a sprawling epic that goes nowhere slowly.

When he isn’t leading his not-so-Merry Men against the invading French, Robin Hood risks his life to fulfill the last wish of a dying soldier, aids the tax-plagued residents of Nottingham and wins the heart of the lovely widow Marion (Blanchett).

Beach Battle

There are some pulsating action scenes, especially a long, bloody battle on the beach after French soldiers land on English soil in a medieval version of D-Day. Robin Hood and his compatriots, perched on a cliff, greet the invaders with a barrage of arrows that form an arc in the air before plunging into various body parts.

Blanchett looks splendid on horseback, and William Hurt and Max von Sydow look distinguished with beards. But the movie would be better if Scott had cut 20 minutes and redubbed some of the dialogue so we could understand what Robin Hood is talking about.

“Robin Hood,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2

‘Just Wright’

“Just Wright” would have us believe that:

1) A handsome young NBA star (Common, the rapper) would jilt his gorgeous social-climber fiancee (Paula Patton) for a plus-size physical therapist (Queen Latifah) who drives a jalopy and lives in a New Jersey fixer-upper.

2) The player returns from a serious knee injury for a crucial playoff game and can barely move. But after a pep talk from the Queen, he makes a miraculous recovery on the court.

3) The New Jersey Nets are championship contenders.

The first two are a stretch, but in the spirit of romantic comedy I’ll give them a pass. The third made me incredulous. (This, after all, is the same team that had the NBA’s worst record this season.)

Even if I believed all these preposterous notions, I’d have to call a technical foul on Sanaa Hamri’s movie for its simplicity and sappiness. No one seems remotely real, especially Common, whose basketball scenes are all shot as close-ups, apparently to disguise the fact that he has no hoops skills.

“Just Wright,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2

‘Letters to Juliet’

Lovelorn women not satisfied with advice from Oprah and Dear Abby have another option: Write a note to Juliet -- that’s right, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lover -- pin it to a brick wall in a Verona courtyard (or mail it) and wait for a reply.

I wasn’t aware of this real phenomenon until I saw “Letters to Juliet,” a schmaltzy romance that gives chick flicks a bad name.

Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!”) plays Sophie, a magazine fact-checker who visits Verona with her business-obsessed fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal) and meets a group of woman who answer the mail sent to Juliet.

The young American volunteers to help and discovers a 50-year-old letter written by a British teen mourning the loss of her Italian lover. Sophie sends a replay and voila, the now-elderly letter-writer (Vanessa Redgrave, still radiant at 73) turns up in Verona with her cute but cynical grandson (Christopher Egan).

The movie then turns into a scenic road trip, with the threesome searching the Italian countryside for the long-lost paramour, played by Redgrave’s husband Franco Nero. Director Gary Winick desperately tries to tug the heartstrings, but the pull I felt was toward the lobby.

“Letters to Juliet,” from Summit Entertainment, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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