The Last of Robin Hood is the latest film starring the dashing Kevin Kline. It’s also the latest of Kline’s period pictures that wastes no time in dashing your expectations.
Now 66, the actor has always had that delicious old-school panache, even back in his salad days when he won his first Tony Award in 1977 in On the Twentieth Century. Thirty-seven years later, I still remember the way he bounced around a train compartment like a pinball in the role of egocentric ’30s matinee idol Bruce Granit. These days Kline remains an expert farceur, and an actor of ever-surprising range and subtlety. But he’s at the mercy of his material. Aren’t we all.
In The Last of Robin Hood he plays the roguish Hollywood legend Errol Flynn, who had an affair during the final two years of his life (Flynn died in 1959 at age 50) with a would-be starlet, Beverly Aadland. She was 15 when they met. Her prototypical fame-mongering stage mother, Florence, wrote a tell-all book in 1961 that served as the basis for The Last of Robin Hood.
Dakota Fanning handles Beverly uncertainly. As a child actress a few years ago, Fanning carried herself with supernatural confidence; now that she’s an adult, she’s finding her way again. The script by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who co-directed, never makes up its mind about tone, style and approach. It all feels a bit off and a little underpowered, in ways unrelated to its budget.
If the same hidebound script, dominated by interior scenes, were given some tabloid grunge and energy, we’d have something. Susan Sarandon is certainly ready to rumble as Florence, whose Mama Rose-like drive (“I did it for you!”) is certainly movie-worthy. And Kline is up for anything: dancing in the near-nude with a rose in his teeth, or simply finding the right way to pull off Flynn’s risible endearments (“You’re my cheeky little wood nymph,” he says at one point). Kline took on Douglas Fairbanks in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin and Cole Porter in Irwin Winkler’s De-Lovely; he’s the go-to biopic ace for roles requiring some fizz, a certain droll elevation and hair parted and slicked-back just so.
All he needs is better vehicles with some real dramatic juice. Here’s a snippet from the real Beverly’s account, published in People magazine in 1988, of her first encounter with Flynn. “… when it was all over, and he realized I was a virgin, there was a complete change. He started to cry. He was very unglued, extremely apologetic, but all I wanted was to get out of there. He had his secretary drive me home, and I cried all the way.”
Where’s that scene, those messy, unglued emotions and actions, in the weirdly becalmed Last of Robin Hood?
The Last of Robin Hood (R): ★★★✩✩