The Musketeer
The Musketeer

USA/Germany, 2001. Rated PG-13. 105 minutes.

Cast: Justin Chambers, Mena Suvari, Tim Roth, Catherine Deneuve, Stephen Rea, Nick Moran, Bill Treacher, Stephen Spiers, David Schofield, Daniel Mesguich, Jan Gregor Kremp, Jean-Pierre Castaldi (Andre the Giant), Jeremy Clyde
Writers: Gene Quintano based on the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Music: David Arnold
Cinematographer: Peter Hyams
Producers: Rudy Cohen, Moshe Diamant
Director: Peter Hyams


Grade: D Review by Carlo Cavagna

E xperience one of the greatest stories ever told… as you've never seen it before!

Hmm… director Peter Hyams and screenwriter Gene Quintano must have a truly original interpretation to justify committing Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers to film for the eighty-seven bazillionth time. [Ed. note: Our research staff has checked and re-checked this figure and is prepared to prove its accuracy.]

Could it be… some reworking of the plot?

Dumas' tale is about a young would-be musketeer, D'Artagnan, who travels to Paris seeking his fortune. There he joins the efforts of three veterans, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, to save the queen and thwart the machinations (whatever they are) of evil Cardinal Richelieu. Like many screen adaptations, Quintano's version eliminates the tragic parts of Dumas' original ending--that's nothing new. Quintano also moves the veteran musketeers (Nick Moran, Stephen Spiers, Jan Gregor Kremp) to the background, choosing to focus on D'Artagnan.

This being a modern movie, Quintano does not deem honor and the greater glory of France to be sufficient motivation for our hero. "Risk his life for some rich bitch he ain't even met? Ain't nobody gonna buy that," you can just hear him say. So D'Artagnan's conflict with Richelieu (Stephen Rea) is made personal. The film opens by showing us the murder of D'Artagnan's parents at the hands of Richelieu's sadistic lieutenant Febre (Tim Roth) while D'Artagnan is just a child. So you know, right off the bat, that the climactic duel will be between D'Artagnan and Febre. Not only that, you know that at some point Febre is going to be begging to know the identity of D'Artagnan. (At which point you will automatically think of Mandy Patinkin's Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!" But Quintano doesn't seem to get the joke.)

The rest of the plot is a similar exercise in connect-the-dots. If D'Artagnan falls for a peasant chambermaid (who of course just happens to be a good friend of the Queen), you know that he's going to have to save her life later. If D'Artagnan refuses to help the other musketeers at a critical juncture because he must go off on a secret mission, you know he's going to have to overcome the hostility of the other musketeers with an emotional appeal to them later. If the Queen is played by Catherine Deneuve, you know she's not going to remain an aloof figurehead forever, but roll up her sleeves and get involved in the fun. It's impossible to get emotionally invested in any of this, because you already know exactly what is going to happen and when it is going to happen.

So no, the plot is not something you've never seen before.Justin Chambers and Mena Suvari

Could it be… the cast?

Casting four people you've probably never heard of as D'Artagnan and the three musketeers? That's fairly unusual, though hardly a reason to rush to see The Musketeer. Justin Chambers, who played the incredibly irritating Italian (or rather, some hack's idea of "Italian") guy in The Wedding Planner has a wide, friendly face, but is a thoroughly vapid lead, lacking the flair, charm, or acting ability to cut a suitably heroic figure. We've seen unheroic heroes before. Tim Roth as a flamboyant, scenery-chewing villain and Stephen Rea as an uptight, calculating one? We've seen it before. Mena Suvari as a love interest? Seen that, too.

Could it be… the hodgepodge of accents?

You may find it interesting how in 17th century France, some people speak English with British accents, while others speak it with an American accent, and still others speak it with French accents. Oh, and one of the musketeers (Kremp) is German. Plus, there's a guy, D'Artagnan's mentor (Jean-Pierre Castaldi), who sounds like Andre the Giant. Why don't they just pick a damn accent! It's not like 17th century France was the Great Melting Pot of Europe. Obviously everyone in the movie should be speaking French with a French accent, so as long we're having to suspend our disbelief enough to accept that they're all speaking English, it doesn't seem like a little consistency is a lot to ask. Either have them all speak English normally or have them all speak with a French accent, but don't mix and match! It's distracting and absurd.

But it's not something you haven't seen before. You've seen it in dozens of films, like Captain Corelli's Mandolin, or, if you insist on an example set in France, The Messenger.

Okay, I'm being disingenuous. We all know what the "as you've never seen it before" refers to. It refers to the action choreography by Xin Xin Xiong, a martial arts and wirework master whose biggest screen credit as an action director is… uh… well, it's the Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dennis Rodman vehicle Double Team, actually.

Xiong gets three big scenes to show his alleged stuff: a introductory sword duel in a tavern that has D'Artagnan floating through the rafters and fighting atop rolling barrels of wine, a stagecoach that has D'Artagnan on top of the carriage and under the carriage, and a climactic duel that begins with D'Artagnan and his opponents hanging from ropes on the side of a tower and ends with D'Artagnan and Febre bouncing around on ladders in a stable. If that last bit sounds familiar, it's because you've already seen it in Once Upon a Time in China.

Though the Asian-influenced fight choreography is unusual for a swashbuckling period adventure set in Europe, it hardly possesses the beauty and grace of the action in, say, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The editing is too choppy, the lighting too dark, and the action too obviously enhanced by wires and computer graphics to be in any way breathtaking. It takes more than second-rate martial arts choreography in French costumes to "experience" this oft-told tale "in a way we've never seen before." Some ability to tell a story and smarter casting would help.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Universal Studios.

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