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The Musketeer

video review out of 4 Movie Review: The Musketeer

Starring: Justin Chambers, Mena Suvari
Director: Peter Hyams
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: September 2001
Genre: Action

*Also starring: Tim Roth, Stephen Rea, Nick Moran, Catherine Deneuve, Jan Gregor Kremp, Jeremy Clyde, Steven Spiers

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Rudyard Kipling exclaimed in 1889, "Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet," he could not have seen Peter Hyams swashbuckler, "The Musketeer," but somehow he must have known that if director/cinematographer Peter Hyams were to attempt a marriage of the Western swordplay in the classic Dumas pere tale with Eastern oscillations, a swift divorce would follow. For this version of the action drama situated in Seventeenth Century France, Hyams seeks to put his original spin by piggy-backing on the wild success of Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but instead of employing crackerjack choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping-- who performed similar chores on "The Matrix"--he utilizes the talents of the second-tier dance-director Xin-Xin Xiong, whose claims to fame include jobs as stunt-and-action coordinator on "Time and Tide," "The Blacksheep Affair," and "Double Team."

If East does not meet West in "The Musketeer," all would not be lost. Unfortunately, the film is as tasteful and inspiring as a 17th Century French crepe served at Lutece restaurant in the year 2001. Not that swashbuckling is necessarily outdated today, particularly when there's a whole generation of young movie buffs who never had the pleasure of watching Errol Flynn before he deteriorated into the murk and fog of illegal drugs, heavy drinking and chain smoking when still in his forties, or Tyrone Power, who could have used his incredible good looks to bring "Solomon and Sheba" to life had he not died in Madrid while filming the Biblical epic. What's wrong with this version is just about everything: there are narrative gaps, inane performances by actors who mumble their words as though thinking appropriately enough in French but verbalizing in English, poor scripting, an editing nightmare, generic music, lazy direction, and ho-hum choreography.

What should give the Dumas classic--as interpreted in as shallow a manner as possible by Gene Quintano's screenplay-- its verve, its pizazz, its charm would be a more than simply perky performance by the lead actor in the role a guy with aspirations to become the most famous of King Louis XIII's elite guard, D'Artagnan. But when Justin Chambers, spotted for his more appropriate role in Barry Levinson's "Liberty Heights," says the most famous of Dumas's line, "All for one and one for all," the audience would not be blamed for thinking he's talking about the weather. Though he has boyish good looks, he's hardly the magnetic type that would appeal instantly to the equally antiseptic Mena Suvari in the role of the French queen's chambermaid, Francesca, but who was born instead to excel in the more suitable guise of the object of Kevin Spacey's lust in "American Beauty." As Francesca, Ms. Suvari comes across in this modernized adaptation as a liberated woman who, when accidentally spotted naked in her bathtub by a blushing D'Artagnan, teases, "Haven't you ever seen a naked woman before?" Yet she turns flush when D'Artagnan in a moment of forgetfulness appears to her in frontal nudity (his back to us in the audience) and turns around, shocked, though not without some admiration of the man's supposed accoutrements.

"The Musketeer" begins when young D'Artagnan witnesses the violent death of his unarmed father, a former musketeer, in the arms of the vicious Febre (Tim Roth--who is terrific and the only fellow in this film worth watching). Vowing to seek revenge, he gets his chance fourteen years later as a grown man seeking admittance to the legion of the king's guards. "The Musketeer" turns road-and-buddy movie as D'Artagnan begins his odyssey to Paris (the southwestern French town of Sarlat standing for the City of Lights in the 1600's). Meeting up with a less-than-colorful stack of opponents, he cuts his way to the capital, searches out Aramis (Nick Moran), Athos (Jan Gregor Kremp) and Porthos (Steve Speirs), the most elite of the elite guards, finding them demoralized, without commission. Allying up with Francesca, he moves to save the queen--who has been captured by the conscience-less Febre.

You come to a movie like this for swordfights, but instead of seeing an Errol Flynn duplicating his first swashbuckling role in Michael Curtiz's 1935 film "Captain Blood," we get the usual MTV-style editing backed up by David Arnold's incredibly banal score, with the result that we wonder why Mr. Chambers needed to develop his fencing talent for a whole month as he claims to have done. Nor do we quite understand the role of Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea--who was a lot better in his Irish roles such as "Danny Boy" and "Michael Collins and in his element in "The Crying Game"). Worst of all is the role spun out by director Hyams for the great Catherine Deneuve, given first credit despite her minuscule part as the queen of France--who at one point disguises herself as a commoner, plays cards with the unwashed, and knocks over one of her enemies with her bare hands and legs. Deneuve, already smarting from being woefully miscast as a factory worker in Lars von Trier's "Dance in the Dark," does not help her rep any in this travesty.

Go ahead. See the movie, then rent a video of "Captain Blood," and watch how Errol Flynn, also in his first role as a fencer, is shown in a better light fifty-six years ago than Hyams is able to conjure up with all of today's special effects techniques at his disposal.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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