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‘Rob Roy’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 07, 1995

IT BECOMES clear soon enough that "Rob Roy," starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, is a period-piece crock, an over-the-top soap opera set in the windblown land o' heather. For most people, that means staying away from this picture in droves. But if you're in a forgiving, campy frame of mind (which I must have been the night I saw this), there's cheap pleasure to be gained from the experience.

First off, I refer everyone to the sight of Neeson in traditional kilting. Then, I direct those with a sense of humor to the "Scottish" accents of Lange and Eric Stoltz, who seems to have been cast purely for his red hair. Finally, I heartily recommend Tim Roth who—as a caddish, foppish swordsman and rapist—is almost adorable in his utter loathsomeness.

Based loosely on the legend of 18th-century Scottish folk hero Robert Roy MacGregor, "Rob Roy" is about title character Neeson (who pulls off a genuine Scottish brogue), a cattle drover for an extremely queenly John Hurt (the imperious Marquis of Montrose). Protecting Hurt's cows from thieving Highlanders, he earns a minuscule salary for his wife, Mary (Lange) and their two boys. Deciding to make a little profit, Neeson borrows 1,000 pounds from the Marquis to buy some cattle, so he can then sell the animals at a profit elsewhere.

But Hurt's scheming lackey (Brian Cox) makes a deal with Hurt's even nastier henchman, Roth, and a cloak-and-dagger plot is born. When the money is stolen, Neeson finds himself insurmountably indebted to the Marquis—with his land as collateral. Roth, who actually pocketed the money, is put in the position of being Hurt's ruthless enforcer. He is not a nice dandy, and he can reduce any opponent to tenderloin with his ruthless blade.

As a straightforward narrative, "Rob Roy" pretty much howls across the Highlands. It is full of incredibly contrived plot hinges—which either keep valuable information from characters or provide information too easily. But thanks to screenwriter Alan Sharp's fast-moving scenario—featuring a healthy array of rape, pillage, burning, deceit, swordfighting, treachery and murder—it's a watchable hoot.

Roth makes such a wonderfully nasty villain, the business of getting revenge on this bewigged SOB becomes very compelling. His final battle with Neeson—an inevitability from the start—is an entertaining (if bloody) spectacle. Amid the stylized performances and the cheesy story line, Sharp is painstakingly effective with historical research. In detail, you'll see the wigs and costumes of the rich, and the depressing grime and poverty of the Scottish poor. And brace yourselves: You'll also hear a choice Chaucerian-era epithet for the female sex organ, again and again—which is highly offensive, but also really useful if you're stumped for a "Q" word in Scrabble.

ROB ROY (R) — Contains rape, violence, 18th-century profanity and American accents.

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