Movie Review: ‘Last of Robin Hood’ lacking in lechery

Eat your heart out, Friar Tuck: Dakota Fanning and Kevin Kline in
Eat your heart out, Friar Tuck: Dakota Fanning and Kevin Kline in "The Last of Robin Hood."

‘The Last of Robin Hood’
★★ 1/2

Whatever hard lessons Errol Flynn learned in the last 17 years of his life, staying away from very young girls after his 1942 statutory rape trial clearly wasn’t one of them.

In fact, when the 50-year-old erstwhile swashbuckler died in 1959 it was in the questionable company of his 17-year-old fiancé, who was a 15-year-old virgin when they met. The revelation of their two-year affair was a sensational scandal at the time and it certainly has the makings of a juicy story today. Yet “The Last of Robin Hood” takes a surprisingly sympathetic approach to everyone involved that, while admirably fair-minded, drains the whole business of sordid entertainment value.

Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who won the top prize at the Sundance Festival in 2006 with “Quinceañera,” “The Last of Robin Hood” begins with the press mobbing young Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) after Flynn’s death. When Beverly faints, the film flashes back two years to the day she shows up at a studio to dance in the chorus of a Gene Kelly movie, where she catches the eye of Flynn (Kevin Kline), who offers her a private audition, takes her to dinner, then seduces her on a sofa in his mansion.

So far, so sleazy, especially since we get the feeling Beverly was just one in a long, long line of routine conquests for Flynn. And that Beverly, while a bit emotional about her brusque deflowering, wasn’t particularly surprised. After all, she’d been working in show biz for years, passing for 18 thanks to a phony birth certificate rigged by her ambitious stage mom Florence (Susan Sarandon) and Flynn’s reputation as “a notorious lady’s man” was worldwide common knowledge.

But Glatzer and Westmoreland make the story shift gears by having Flynn unaccountably yearn for more of the girl’s company and woo her properly, leading to a full-fledged romance. One that Flynn renders less explosive, after learning the true age of his paramour, by declaring her his protégé and recruiting Florence as their chaperone for public appearances.

A little more explosive, with a little more outright lechery and lust, might have been a good thing for “Last of Robin Hood,” which takes pains to sanitize the story as much as possible. And to portray all three characters as empathetically as possible, even Florence, who comes off as the Beverly’s true exploiter — though she’s less of a harpy here than a deluded Hollywood wannabe who will do anything to assure her daughter’s success.

All three leads contribute nicely nuanced performances (especially Kline, who was born to play this part), but the film doesn’t give them much to work with. Once it’s established that Flynn had genuinely tender feelings for the girl, resulting in his proposal of marriage on her 17th birthday, there’s nowhere for the story to go, beyond the great efforts he made to advance her career, despite her complete lack of acting talent.

In one mind-boggling, yet apparently true, scene Flynn attempts to negotiate a package deal with Stanley Kubrick, offering to star in “Lolita” if Beverly is given the title role. A little later, after exhausting all other options, Flynn produces “Cuban Rebel Girls,” his final film, with Beverly as his co-star. Somehow, though, neither of these episodes live up to their outrageous potential.

Glatzer and Westmoreland are more interested in tracking Flynn’s almost meekly grateful happiness with Beverly, as his health and his fortunes go into sharp decline —and that’s nice (in a creepy sort of way), of course, but not especially interesting. Or entirely convincing. After all, this is the man who entitled his autobiography “My Wicked, Wicked Ways.”

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