“The Last of Robin Hood” plays like a laboratory control experiment gone wrong: What would happen if you made a movie with a great cast and terrible everything else? The tale of Hollywood star Errol Flynn’s last years and pitiful final romance has been given a made-for-TV makeover that hurls the talents of some very good players into a pit of kitsch.
Kevin Kline, in particular, has the natural dash to play Flynn and a thinking actor’s awareness of when derring-do becomes derring-don’t. When we meet Flynn in the late 1950s, the star is not yet 50 yet already seems a parody of his wicked, wicked self. Hair glued into place, his skin a mottled, unhealthy pink, Flynn’s eyes bug and his hands twitch when he spies a 15-year-old extra named Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) on the back lot. He promises her the Hollywood moon and deflowers her in one quick evening, but what else should a girl expect? Ever since found winkingly innocent of statutory rape charges in a 1943 trial, Flynn has been America’s national billy goat. Even Beverly’s father (Patrick St. Esprit) knows the actor is “a walking penis.”
By contrast, Beverly’s fame-hungry mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon), has dreams of stardom for her daughter and wills herself to look the other way until she no longer can. Then she just goes along for the ride. “The Last of Robin Hood” is a tale of three sad, shallow people, and while a more malicious filmmaker might squeeze a damning cultural critique out of this script, writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceanera”) opt for a bland, soap opera treatment that hammers home all the obvious ironies and none of the nuances. Unless the tinny musical score is an intentional joke.
Sarandon rises to the occasion and doesn’t oversell Mama Aadland’s awfulness — it’s clear that Florence believes her own lies and drinks to seal off the doubt. Fanning’s Beverly is a sweet, dull cipher, which may be the point but isn’t terribly interesting. Kline gives us a Flynn with just enough self-awareness to make him pathetic and not enough to save either him or Beverly. This is a story with much to say about the way we treat our celebrities, how they treat us, and what it costs everyone in dignity. Somehow the filmmakers find a way not to say it.
It’s true that Flynn, toward the end of his life, envisioned a film version of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” starring himself and Aadland, and “The Last of Robin Hood” dutifully includes a pitch meeting between the star and an incredulous Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella, miscast). Any other parallels between that novel and this movie are as far-fetched as Flynn’s hopes. Instead of delusional poetry, the film gives us flat, generic prose.