by Del Harvey
Or, scraping the bottom of the summer movie experience.
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Peter Hyams (End of Days, Narrow Margin) is not an ‘A’-list director, although I am not sure he can take all the blame for this butchery. Alexandre Dumas pere’s The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite novels. As a boy I read the story over and over. It is not only a swashbuckling tale of adventure, like those of Rafael Sabatini or Robert Louis Stevenson, but it is a political intrigue, a story of ideals, and a tale of rites of passage. Those elements are touched upon, very briefly, in this distilled version, which comes across more as weekly serial Western than anything based in the late 1600’s. Somewhere in the decision making process it seems as though a conscious effort was made to leave Dumas’ story as a dim backdrop while showcasing the physical abilities of the young lead as stunt man and swordsman in order to boost the interest factor of a teen audience.
The Three Musketeers is one of the most remade and revamped stories in motion picture history. This version is probably most similar to the 1921 version starring the great Douglas Fairbanks, known for his athleticism and charm. Unfortunately, the young man playing D’Artagnan (Justin Chambers - Liberty Heights) lacks any real charm and is very out of place here, coming off as the local high school jock more than a charming young man from another century.
Mena Suvari plays Francesca, handmaid to the Queen and D’Artangan’s love interest. She’s a much better actress than Chambers, and does her best to carry him through their scenes together. However, it was just too much to include a scene with her in a bathtub - a much too familiar situation to find her.
Writer Gene Quintano decided Richelieu and Rochefort were not villainous enough and fabricated a black-hearted killer named Febre (Tim Roth, terribly underused here). Richelieu is portrayed by the under-appreciated Stephen Rea (The Butcher Boy, Citizen X, The Crying Game). Rea is an outstanding actor and one of two given any real lines in this film. The other is the extremely talented and beautiful Catherine Deneuve (La Grande Bourgeoise, The Last Metro) who plays the Queen of France and, along with Rea, provides the only real storyline in this, uh, film.
The two best recommendations for this film are its fight choreography and its sound. Not the soundtrack, but the sound. If this film is not nominated for best sound, it will be a definite surprise.
The fight choreography, by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Xin Xin Xiong, is very good. Not as good as Crouching Tiger, and not good enough to hold your attention for very long, I’m afraid. In fact, after the first half hour the fight scenes were so numerous and dazzling that they became boring. I noticed several teens in the packed theatre around me checking their watches from time to time. Not a good sign.
If you have the opportunity to see The Musketeer…don’t. Instead, rent the film which is by far the most accurate version of the novel and also the most entertaining film version, bar none. I speak of Richard Lester’s 1973 version, which you will find in two volumes as The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. The difference between that richly textured film and this bit of fluff are the difference between hearing a fife solo or John Phillip Sousa’s entire marching band. There simply is no comparison.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago and survived the Walt Disney Company, Lucasfilm and the Directors Guild of America.
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