1991: Pleading Not Guilty for the Prince of Thieves

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I don’t remember how it happened, but once my friend Jamie and I were in a public elevator and ended up loudly acting out a scene of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. We knew there were strangers there. We knew at 21 years old we should know better, but we did not care. The scene is a pivotal one in the movie, where Christian Slater, who played Will Scarlett, tells Robin (Kevin Costner in glorious mullet) that they are half siblings. It is an emotional scene with yelling and crying. We both knew it word for word.

Imagine if you will two tiny white girls having the following exchange on an elevator you’re riding:

“We are brothers, Robin of Locksley. I was the son of the woman who replaced your dead mother for a…”

“It’s a lie!!”

“It’s not a lie! YOU RUINED MY LIFE!”

Then they double over laughing. So they’re likely bipolar, the question is, are they dangerous?

We weren’t, I promise. We just truly adored that movie, so much so that each of us wrote about it on our application to what some would say is the most prestigious film school in the country, USC. Let me pause to just take care of something real quick, it’s kinda mandatory:

Okay. So, you probably think it was ill-advised for us to write about such an openly-mocked movie while trying to impress an admissions committee, but here is the thing. At least four of us in the class of 2005 chose to write about this movie in a loving way and we all were admitted to an incredibly selective program. Perhaps it is because director Kevin Reynolds is an alum, or perhaps this movie is much better than the AV Club suggests it is.

Really, there is nothing guilty about the pleasure I derive from this film, I adore it unabashedly and I would sincerely argue it is a well-made movie. First, let’s look at its popularity. It was the second-most successful film of the year, trailing only Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This is the same argument I make with Michael Bay films. You can argue he is a terrible filmmaker, but you can’t write off the track record of a dude whose movies have amassed a couple billion dollars. Yes, some are the result of advertising push and franchise exposure, but Bad Boys and Armageddon are both rare combinations of original story and massive box success. Yes, the Robin Hood story has been around a while, but this movie succeeded not on the popularity of Robin Hood, but because the execution resulted in a movie that appealed to everyone. It was exciting enough to intrigue kids, but not too violent to scare them. Teen girls (and me) could admire the heart throb of the era, Christian Slater. There was romance between Robin and Maid Marion. There was an incredibly fun and flawless villain played by Alan Rickman.

These sorts of actions movies aren’t as common anymore for a couple of reasons. First, the stakes have been raised so absurdly high that if your budget exceeds $200 million, the plot must include the end of the world or, bare minimum, the extermination of an entire country. A big budget action movie that amounts to a kind of selfish brat turned renegade defending his tree house village doesn’t quite compare to the Avengers trying to return an entire city back to the ground after having it nearly dragged into space then detonated. There is a pregnant woman and a fetus in medical peril at a point, but with no global pandemic, it isn’t really up to snuff.

I mentioned when dwelling on 1989 that medium-sized movies don’t really exist anymore. Well, neither do small-scale action flicks in which the most advanced technology being used is fire and catapults. Even the romantic rock ballad headlining the soundtrack has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps they realized it will be tough to do better than Bryan Adams.

Moral of the story is basically this: you can’t evaluate this film through a contemporary action movie lens because in the past 25 years the paradigm shift has left the genre utterly unrecognizable. To really drive the point home, know that this movie was released during the peak of summer movie season, June 16th. It had an action figure series, endorsement deals, and a buzzworthy trailer of that arrow flying through the woods. This was 1991’s equivalent of Jurassic World.

While we’re on the subject of redeeming things that just don’t make sense in the current pop culture economy, let’s talk about a show I know you’re going to bag on, The Commish. Most of you know Michael Chiklis as a TV cop. So do I, but while yours was a semi-corrupt badass on The Shield, mine was one who enjoyed outsmarting criminals and finding writing utensils in his cold cuts.

I may have watched Star Trek TNG with my dad, but the only show all four member of my family watched was this police dramedy about a scamp of a commissioner cut from the same cloth as Matlock or Columbo. Like Murder, She Wrote, The Commish was another series in the genre of light hearted mysteries. These days, USA seems to have this market cornered with series like Monk and Psych, while the seemingly humorless CSI franchises have taken over those time slots on present-day broadcast television with rare exceptions like Hawaii 5-0, which is still far more serious in tone than its predecessor.

This genre was so pervasive, there are now enough reruns to power an entire cable channel, Hallmark Mysteries. My mother watches it nightly and never grows tired of Columbo gleefully explaining how he figured it out. She doesn’t like the current procedurals with similar revelatory monologues, but she has never explained why. If I had to guess, it would be because too much of what they are concluding is deduced from science, which is boring, while clever people being clever is simply much more entertaining.

The Commish used to run in reruns on Lifetime, but it hasn’t had much of a life in the 21st century. I bought the complete series box sets (don’t think I don’t see those judgy faces) and was a bit disappointed when it arrived and I realized it is basically made out of something I could have printed on a color printer at home and stuffed into supplies likely purchased at a Wal-Mart. I often wonder why similar shows like House are rerunning like crazy while no one has syndicated The Commish. Perhaps it is a cost issue, but it is something I think would fit right in to the current Hallmark Mystery lineup.

Most people don’t even know it was ever a show though. It ran for several years, but was never a number one hit. It was more like a “Two Broke Girls”. A successful but not smashingly successful show with an audience that 25 years from now will mostly not be asking, whatever happened to that show and why isn’t it on DVD?

This song I am about to bring up is not a “guilty pleasure” like these other 1991 artifacts, but I have a theory that Groove Is in the Heart by Dee-Lite is never going to be properly rated. I have yet to meet a person who dislikes this song, but when the discussion of huge hits of the 90s, we hear about Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, NKOTB, and Whitney Houston, but rarely does this club dance tune get mentioned.

It occasionally makes list of more music criticism-oriented organizations, but the mainstream kind of takes it for granted. So, in a way, it suffers from an appropriate amount of attention just like Robin Hood and Commissioner Scali.

If you haven’t listened to it in a while, do me a favor. Add this song to your gym playlist or turn it on when you’re cleaning up around the house. If you are not dancing by the end of it, let me know. I would like to document you as the first person who didn’t reach down deep into their heart and get their groove on.

Just because people are couching their love for something by saying it is a guilty pleasure or not talking about it at all doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Think about your guilty pleasure. Do you ironically love that Bryan Adams song, or do you have the time of your life singing it loudly in the car only to turn and see the passenger in the car next to you at the stoplight staring at you? If you have invested in a movie to own a copy of it for your own, how much guilt are you really feeling about it if it is on your DVD shelf? And if a dance song may not be mentioned all that often, but it can still get pretty much everyone who listens to it to tap their feet, you best believe it accomplished exactly what it set out to do with no shame whatsoever.

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