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Keep your expectations low, put up with the first, slow-moving hour or so and resign yourself to a laconic Robin Hood-as-Indiana Jones, and you probably won't be disappointed with "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

This is, after all, a Kevin Costner vehicle, and though he's hopelessly miscast in the role, he manages to buckle his swash with the best of them, and, thanks to some knockout special effects, his archery skills are unparalleled.

This "Robin Hood" is an odd combination of revisionist and traditionalthinking that begins with Robin being held captive by the Turks during the Crusades. The opening scenes have him making a violent escape, during which he rescues an aristocratic Moor named Azeem (Morgan Freeman), who accompanies him back to England.

Once home, Robin discovers that in King Richard's absence the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) has killed his father and taken over his land. Robin has a run-in with some of the sheriff's men who are in pursuit of a young lad that has killed one of the king's deer; pays a visit to his childhood sweetheart Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who has become a feisty feminist; and finds himself on the lam.

When he heads for cover into spooky Sherwood Forest, Robin encounters a band of not-so-merry men, peasants who have been driven from their homes by the sheriff's taxes, each with a price on his head. After a bit of stick-to-stick combat in a river with John Little (Nick Brumble), and a strong vote of distrust from brooding Will Scarlett (Christian Slater), it isn't long before Robin begins to pull them all together to strike back at the sheriff.

"Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" starts off rather sluggishly and it isn't until the revenge motif kicks into gear that the film really starts moving, but once it does, the excitement factor alone should hold the audience captive - especially action fans.

Still, there are some disturbing problems with this rather messy, far too long (nearly 21/2 hours) movie. The overall tone of the film is far too dark, as if to purposely contrast Errol Flynn's brightly colored 1938 classic, "The Adventures of Robin Hood," which is admittedly a bit too clean. The amount of spit and blood here, however, not to mention the use of Hollywood's favorite profanity, seem out of place.

I was also bothered by the sequence toward the end where the sheriff is trying to force Marian to marry him, after which he immediately tries to rape her. The scene is treated like a joke, but it's hard to laugh at attempted rape.

And it's unfortunate that the dialogue is often hokey and the cliches are often thick, most obviously with a cat leaping out to scare Marian and the killer-that-wouldn't-die bit toward the end.

On the plus side are the action scenes, which director Kevin Reynolds handles very well, along with a bevy of strong characterizations that provide all the main actors time for a solid moment or two along the way. By far the best of these is Freeman as Azeem, a philosophical observer whose comic commentary is delightful. Rickman has some hilarious moments as the sheriff, but he plays the comedy so broadly it tends to undermine the character's ruthlessness. He's still evil, but he's also a clown, and not nearly as compelling as he was in "Die Hard."

As for Costner, he tries a slight British accent but can't quite shed his modern Midwest image, and he's far too laid-back for the spirited character of Robin Hood. Still, he tries hard, and his fans probablywon't care that he seems a bit out of place.

On the whole, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" is a lot of fun and will doubtless clean up at the box office the first couple of weeks. Whether it becomes the summer's biggest blockbuster will depend on how many repeat trips audiences are willing to make to this very dark view of the legendary hero.

It is rated PG-13, but is very violent, with nudity (Costner's backside), profanity and vulgarity.