Once the opening credits are over and the villagers complain that their village is always being burned down by flaming arrows in these situations, some rapping Merrie Men appear and outline the plot, basically Robin Hood (Cary Elwes) is in a Jerusalem prison having been captured by the enemy during the Crusades he went on with King Richard. Meanwhile, back in England the evil brother of the King, Prince John (Richard Lewis) has the land in the grip of his iron fist, assisted by the wicked Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees), and nobody can stand up to them. What they need is for Robin of Loxley to return home and bring down the authorities, but that may be difficult when there appears to be no way out of the dungeon. Or is there?
Writer and director Mel Brooks had tried out the Robin Hood parodies before on his brief television series When Things Were Rotten, but evidently with the fresh popularity of the legendary character thanks to Kevin Costner adopting the role in Prince of Thieves he was moved to dust off his old ideas and spruce them up for the nineteen-nineties. That was a decade not too kind to Brooks as he failed to elicit the same fan following to his movies as he had in years previous, and he took a beating from the tastemakers after this effort with most accusing him of having lost it, "it" being the power to make his audience laugh. However, if you were put off by that reaction, perhaps it was time to give Men in Tights another chance.
For a start, it was actually a musical, not that it was advertised as such and the songs are well-spaced apart, but you were offered a variety of tunes at a time when the genre was more or less persona non grata in the arena of the major movie, outside of the animated features. You had the title tune emphasising the unintentional camp of, well, manly men donning green, close-fitting legwear, you had Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck) trilling a ballad in the bath only interrupted by the camera breaking the window (a favourite Brooks gag), you had Robin himself booming out a Nelson Eddy-style confession of love which blasts Marian in the face, and so on, not forgetting those raps included as a reference to every Hollywood movie of the day featuring one in an attempt to pander, even when they were inappropriate.
But those more up to date jokes were contrasted with a plethora of humour that was best described as comfortable, the amusement suggesting the person enjoying this most was Brooks himself. Yet as determinedly silly, even groanworthy, as the quips and parodies got, it was clear he had been sold short by those who criticised his Robin Hood back in 1993, since there were many moments that had you laughing out loud assuming you were willing to indulge him, and yourself. Helping was Elwes in the title role, boasting of his authentic English accent and cutting quite the dash as the debonair Robin, more a spoof of Errol Flynn than Costner, suggesting Brooks had more affection for the classic Hollywood version than the nineties upstarts.
But then, everyone was happy to play along as if well aware these were not the most cutting edge jokes you would ever hear, but they were going to play them to the hilt because one slip that it wasn't anything but a movie nobody was intended to take seriously would have doomed it. Dave Chappelle echoed Cleavon Little as the deliberately anachronistic Morgan Freeman-esque Merrie Man, there were extended cameos from the likes of Dom DeLuise (doing his old standby, the Marlon Brando in The Godfather impersonation - why not? He was good at it!), Tracey Ullman buried under makeup as the mad witch, and so it went on, each performer wheeled on to do their party piece as if in a feature length television variety show on a holiday weekend. Fair enough, some of the humour was a shade bluer, with much mileage from Marian's form-fitting chastity belt, but a lot was simply cheerily stupid, referencing pop culture, being blithely crude, allowing the likes of Rees to winningly chew the scenery - it all served the common cause of being funny. No classic, but good enough. Music by Hummie Man.