A Kevin Kline performance in a role he was born to play is pretty much wasted in “The Last of Robin Hood,” a tepidly sordid account of screen swashbuckler Errol Flynn’s last love affair with an underage girl, and his final days.
Co-written and directed by the “Quinceanera” team, and produced by famed indie producer Christine Vachon (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “I’m Not There”), you’d expect more from this tale of a transgressive romance, and its fallout, than “Robin Hood” delivers.
What it becomes is yet another awkward, clumsily sexual Dakota Fanning vehicle.
The film opens with the scandal at Flynn’s death, a humiliated girl (Fanning) hounded by the tabloids, with a mother (Susan Sarandon) all too eager to tell all.
He was “her first love,” Mom coos, “and his last.” Their affair was “predestined.”
Beverly Aadland (Fanning) was a veteran child actress and aspiring chorus girl when the 50ish Flynn eyed her on a studio lot in the late 1950s. He was smitten, and she was hopeful he could help her career.
Not nearly as hopeful, it turns out, as her stage mother, Florence. When Flynn wants to “rehearse” with Beverly, try her out for a play he’s to be in, Mom is all too eager to send her older-than-she-looks little girl “up to the lodge.” That’s where the aging star of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Captain Blood” and a run of other action hits of a generation before gets the girl drunk and seduces her.
Flynn plays up his plummy and posh screen accent to this “exquisite creature,” all oily charm as he nicknames Beverly “Woodsie,” because she is like a woodland nymph.
Beverly hides the statutory rape from her mother, and never looks more girlish than when she strains to act older even as she weeps in humiliation.
Mother Flo has issues galore, which is used to explain the blind eye she turns to what is happening to her only child. She “chaperones” dates and trips to New York with Flynn and his “protegee.”
But Beverly falls for Flynn’s charm, his turtlenecks and ascots, the post-coital quoting of Shakespeare.
“The desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit!”
There’s a little spark to Kline’s performance, though one can feel judgment sneaking in, here and there. His Flynn is all surface charm and studied excess. He knows what it means to be “In Like Flynn,” and is never creepier than when he’s fretting about keeping up appearances.
But that’s exactly what his life and career were in the later ’50s — supporting parts, a dalliance with Castro in Cuba where he directed “Cuban Rebel Girls” (starring Beverly Aadland). The one big revelation here has to do with a film Flynn wanted to do with Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella, perfectly cast), a huge break, had it happened.
Fanning’s Beverly seems like another over-reach in her efforts to transition from child star to adulthood. She’s a dull performer. The camera never captures any inner life.
The script makes the mistake of being desultory from the beginning, giving us no highs followed by lows. Even Sarandon’s villainous mother is more glum than hateable.
The entire affair feels malnourished, under-rehearsed and starved of energy. The couple was together on the set of John Huston’s “Roots of Heaven” in Africa, but that all takes place off camera.
If co-writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland filmed scenes set there, how weak must they have been to warrant leaving them out, judging from the listless footage that actually made the final cut of “The Last of Robin Hood?”