In "Robin Hood," the medieval freedom fighter has ditched his tights for more mannish gear like body armor, which is too bad. Thanks to Spider-Man, Batman and Kick-Ass, his outfit is back in fashion.

Morphing into a superhero would have been more plausible than what happens in the latest Hollywood retelling of the enduring myth. Initially, the movie is lively and compelling, with Russell Crowe bringing a quiet gravitas to a role that in the past has called for acrobatics (Douglas Fairbanks), charm (Errol Flynn) and smarm (Kevin Costner). But the film quickly goes into mythmaking overdrive and eventually overheats.

This time, Robin Hood is not a dispossessed nobleman but a lowborn soldier, and his Marion (Cate Blanchett) is not a Maid but a widowed Lady. The Sheriff of Nottingham barely appears; the heavies are the double agent Godfrey (Mark Strong) and the infantile King John (a wonderfully louche Oscar Isaac).

But screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential") also wants to turn Robin into King Arthur, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and a harbinger of Sigmund Freud. How so? After finding a gleaming sword, Robin undergoes crude hypnosis to recover repressed memories. These unleash his hidden oratorical skills, which he uses to present the king with a document outlining democracy.

Right there, "Robin Hood" goes as far afield as a bent arrow. Crowe turns into Mel Gibson's William Wallace, Blanchett succumbs to the limits of her role and director Ridley Scott goes all Walt Disney, punctuating his climactic battle scene with cutesy humor (look for Friar Tuck in chain mail).

About the only things Robin doesn't do in this movie are split the atom and write "Hound Dog." But there's always the sequel.

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'Robin Hood' screenwriter hits a bulls-eye

'Robin Hood" had several starts and stops - delayed by a screenwriters' strike and by Russell Crowe, who had just played a portly journalist in "State of Play" and needed to get into fighting shape for his starring role. Originally set for release last November, the movie premieres Friday.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland says he came onto the movie when director Ridley Scott was looking for revisions to a screenplay by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris that had been much more focused as a "CSI" story about the Sheriff of Nottingham (the film's original title was "Nottingham") and less focused on Robin Longstride, as Crowe's character is called in the finished film.

Helgeland had written a script about Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés called "The Serpent and the Eagle," with Ron Howard penciled in to direct, but the wheels came off the project when Mel Gibson made "Apocalypto." Apparently, there was only so much room for a drama about the conquest.

"Ridley really liked it but wasn't ultimately interested in directing it," Helgeland says. Scott admired how Helgeland had taken a historical figure and brought him to life; he wanted Helgeland to do the same in "Robin Hood."

- Los Angeles Times