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'Musketeer'

Silly knight's tale focuses on single 'Musketeer' and a bunch of anachronisms

Friday, September 07, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"The Musketeer" promises to tell its familiar story "as you've never seen it before." But different is not necessarily better. And how different can a movie be that reminds you of so many other films?

 
    Movie Review

'THE MUSKETEER'

RATING: PG-13 for intense action violence and some sexual material.

STARRING: Catherine Deneuve, Tim Roth, Stephen Rea, Justin Chambers.

DIRECTOR: Peter Hyams.

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 stars.

 
 

How is this version of "The Three Musketeers" different from those that have come before? Note the title, referring to a single person. In this movie, D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers) is the only one who matters. Athos (Jan Gregor Kemp), Porthos (Steven Speirs) and Aramis (Nick Moran) are strictly supporting players.

D'Artagnan doesn't say much but when he does, he lays major smack. Nothing rattles him, except perhaps the sight of his beautiful chambermaid, Francesca (Mena Suvari). Don't dis D' or you'll get a cutting remark guaranteed to make a hotheaded adversary draw his sword, which would be a mistake.

He must have spent all those summers growing up in 17th-century France pretending to be Clint Eastwood in spaghetti westerns and watching Hong Kong martial-arts movies. He spins and leaps and performs kicks and back flips during swordfights, often while balancing precariously on ladders or barrels.

Oh. Right. They didn't have martial-arts movies or spaghetti westerns in 17th-century France. Yeah, but they didn't have Freddie Mercury singing "We Will Rock You" in 14th-century France, which didn't stop medieval sports fans from chanting it in "A Knight's Tale." In 21st-century Hollywood, anachronism is the now thing.

But it can only take you so far. Director Peter Hyams shoots the first fight scene inside a tavern with such poor lighting that it's hard to see all those fancy moves. The ultimate battle in "The Musketeer" has D'Artagnan and his nemesis, Febre (Tim Roth), leaping from one seesawing ladder to the next while clinking swords all the while. Jackie Chan in his worst nightmare never dreamed of anything that looks so silly, or ends so anticlimactically.

Febre, who killed D'Artagnan's parents when our hero was a young boy, works for the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea), who is undermining weak King Louis (Daniel Mesguich). The strength on the throne belongs to the Queen (Catherine Deneuve), who isn't afraid to mix it up with anyone.

No one can explain Febre's insatiable bloodlust except to say he's "gone mad." Yeah, so did Charles Manson. There's always more to it than that, but screenwriter Gene Quintano couldn't be bothered to explore Febre's twisted psyche.

Hyams, who directed the awful made-in-Pittsburgh action thriller "Sudden Death," has a penchant for creating villains so heinous that they threaten to kill children. "The Musketeer" is not quite as reprehensible in this regard as was "Sudden Death," which had someone dressed as a sports mascot put a gun to a child's head and pull the trigger, not knowing the gun was empty.

Still, Febre's wanton mayhem -- he's the equivalent of a modern-day terrorist with official sanction -- leaves a sour aftertaste and spoils what otherwise seems intended as a lighthearted romp, an old-fashioned high-spirited adventure. David Arnold's title theme has that heroic flair, and there is much tongue-in-cheek banter among the Musketeers in their escapades.

For the D'Artagnan that Quintano and Hyams have imagined, Chambers is just fine. Roth, fresh off his nasty turn as General Thade in "Planet of the Apes," makes you thirst for his blood. Deneuve makes the queen charming in an earthy manner that no real queen would ever adopt. Jean-Pierre Castaldi offers stout and amusing support as D'Artagnan's mentor, Planchet.

But Rea is an ineffectual Richelieu, looking for much of the film like a minor bureaucrat who got caught with his hand in the till. And Suvari is hopelessly out of place as a 17th-century chambermaid who keeps a knife in her garter for protection. She's a thoroughly modern Millie who reacts to almost everything by opening her eyes so wide that they could be mistaken for American pies.

As I said, anachronism will take you only so far -- and we really don't want to go any further.

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