- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Several cinematic renditions of Alexander Dumas' 1620s adventure saga “The Three Musketeers” have been produced through the years. With the release of the 2001 version, “The Musketeer” by director and cinematographer Peter Hyams, some might question the need for yet another. But this one, as the promotional material accurately promises, presents the story “as you have never seen it before,” for better and for worse. Not only are the musketeers devoid of muskets, but they also are masters of Chinese-inspired martial arts, which is a delightful (if historically inaccurate) surprise.

In one of the first scenes, the unproven wannabe musketeer, D'Artagnan, portrayed by Justin Chambers, plays wrecking crew in a murky inn. He descends into the splits on rolling barrels, side kicks and back flips a la Jet Li. When one looks at the credits, the Chinese tie becomes evident: The stunt coordinator is Xin-Xin Xiong, a Hong Kong action coordinator making his Hollywood debut with “The Musketeer.”

His influence is seen throughout the one-hour-40-minute action flick as D'Artagnan fights on top of horse-drawn coaches and in barns. It reaches its gravity-defying peak when ever-evil Tim Roth, who plays the right-hand man to Stephen Rea's bad-guy Cardinal Richelieu, fights our hero D'Artagnan.

No matter how injured they become, the two keep sword-fighting, not on the ground (that would make it too boring) and not on a ledge (too common in fencing scenes) but ascended on sky-high ladders that swing like upside-down pendulums as the warring men maintain their balance. Their jumps off and on the ladders are even reminiscent of the aero-acrobatics in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (also referred to in the promotional material).

Though the action scenes are fun, frequent and ridiculous, the acting is only ridiculous. Fine actors such as Mr. Roth, Mr. Rea and lovely Catherine Deneuve, who plays the queen of France and wife of King Louis XIII, play their parts sufficiently. But what to do when you're handed a one-dimensional character?

Mr. Rea gets the only philosophical line of the whole movie when he says of D'Artagnan something like, “A man without greed makes me nervous.”

Mr. Roth's man is superevil, killing left and right with no remorse, and Mr. Rea's character, while cutting himself off from Mr. Roth's in the end, never expresses regret over his own meanness. Miss Deneuve's queen is busty, beautiful and bossy.

D'Artagnan is the musketeer (even if he goes through the movie without that title) in this movie. He's the main hero and, played by Mr. Chambers, a cutie. Yet his part, too, is underwritten.

The other musketeers, Porthos, Athos and Aramis, are not only underwritten, but almost unwritten. Their camaraderie is ignored, and their humorous idiosyncrasies, so deliciously described in Dumas' novel, are barely touched on.

Mena Suvari, who made her breakthrough as Kevin Spacey's Lolita interest in “American Beauty,” competently plays D'Artagnan's unbelievably large-eyed honey.

Again, though, her character, is underdeveloped and one-dimensional. Unfortunately, Miss Suvari and Mr. Chambers lack romantic chemistry, and their scenes together are cute in a kind of cartoonish way, with not a drop of sensuality.

Visually, “The Musketeer,” with its lavish palace scenes, livestock-cluttered streetscapes and mist-filled rolling French hills, is pleasing. The indoor lighting is low, and some scenes are even reminiscent of the way the great Dutch painters from the 17th century used light, dark and shadows.

“The Musketeer” lacks a compelling story and interesting characters but makes up for a few of those deficits in its myriad fight scenes and aesthetically pleasing camerawork.

This is a silly action flick that probably will please fans of Mr. Hyam's earlier movies, such as “The End of Days” but disappoint those who crave Dumas' philosophical meanderings into such matters as the constant conflict between good and evil.


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