The Musketeer

Does the world really need another “Musketeer” movie? To be more precise, does the world need a “Musketeer” movie that bypasses logic and tradition in order to satisfy a youth action market who has no idea who Alexandre Dumas is, much less read one of his books?

musketeerWelcome to “The Musketeer,” a stylish adventure that embraces Hong Kong action films more than tradition. The result is a period piece that steps out of time whenever someone pulls out a sword. What might have seemed like a good idea on paper doesn’t translate well to film. Every time you try to get lost in the story the action scenes bring you back to the present.

Ever since “The Matrix” opened the door for this sort of thing, Hollywood has been flooding the market with films filled with Hong Kong martial arts action. While these action scenes have become common place in modern day action films, with the exception of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” they seem out of place in a 17th century period piece.

Take away the action scenes and “The Musketeer” is just another standard issue retread of the Dumas’ novel, delivered in dark, murky images by director-cinematographer Peter Hyams.

Hyams used to be an effective action director (“Outland,” “The Star Chamber”), but must be in a slump. His Arnold Schwarzenegger apocalyptic thriller “End of Days” was loud and obnoxious, while “The Musketeers” seems only to exist to show off the work of Hong Kong fight choreographer Xin-Xin Xiong (“Once Upon a Time in China”).

Spunky Justin Chambers (“The Wedding Planner”) plays D’Artagnan, a young man who seeks revenge on the man who murdered his parents. That would be Febre (Tim Roth), assistant to the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea), who is in the midst of disgracing King Louis XIII and stealing his power.

Richelieu has discredited the Musketeers and imprisoned their captain, making the Queen (Catherine Deneuve) vulnerable to scheming Febre. When he’s not rallying the Musketeers into action, D’Artagnan spends the rest of the film rescuing the Queen and her personal dresser and seamstress Francesca (Mena Suvari). Whether it’s a wild carriage chase or dangling from the side of a castle wall, D’Artagnan seems to be a magnet for close calls and heroic adventure.

You just wish the film had the same constitution. The dramatic moments only serve as links to the action sequences, which wear out their welcome long before the climatic showdown between D’Artagnan and Febre. Except for a few fleeting moments, nothing in “The Musketeer” is as much fun as it could have and should have been. Richard Lester’s quintessential “The Three Musketeers” proved that you could respect the work and still have fun with it.

Except when they’re engaged in battle, everyone in “The Musketeer” walks around like they’re wearing lead shoes. There’s no bounce in their step. Gene Quintano’s revisionist screenplay doesn’t help. The characters are poorly developed, the dialogue is painfully pedestrian, and under Hyams mechanical direction, there is absolutely no chemistry between the actors.

Even the reliable Roth, Rea and Deneuve feel like day players, there just to collect a check. Roth was much more convincing and sinister under layers of make-up in “Planet of the Apes” than he is here. Roth plays the evil Febre on cruise control, hitting all the right notes but totally lacking in conviction.

When she’s not lost in Hyams darkly lit interiors, Catherine Deneuve actually sparkles. She seems to be the only one in the film who understands that they’re not making great art. She goes along for the ride and is no worse for it. Rea, a wonderful actor who usually plays understated characters, fails to impress as Cardinal Richelieu. We’re supposed to despise him, but Rea plays him so broad it’s difficult to take the character seriously.

Mena Suvari, the “American Beauty” vixen who gave new meaning to the phrase “Bed of Roses,” never fully blooms as the Queen’s seamstress and the object of D’Artagnan’s affections. Suvari is pretty to look at, but can’t compete with the film’s testosterone level.

As D’Artagnan, Justin Chambers looks the part, and displays the athletic prowess needed to command the screen during the action scenes, but I’m not yet willing to write him a blank check as an action star. When he’s not bouncing off the walls or balancing on ladders, Chambers lacks dramatic confidence. Only time will tell if he’s capable of mixing action and drama with ease.

Shot in Luxemburg and France, “The Musketeer” has that musty old world look, and the apparently healthy budget allows production designer Phillip Harrison the freedom to create a believable environment. The action scenes benefit from Terry Rawlings’ razor sharp editing and David Arnold’s heroic score.

Hyams occasionally redeems himself, but not nearly enough to compensate for the rest of the film. His insistence of keeping everyone and everything in the dark is confusing and frustrating. A film about the Musketeers should be bold and larger-than-life, not dark and provincial. Even though it wasn’t a very good film, the 1993 Charlie Sheen-Chris O’Donnell swashbuckler was decisively much more entertaining.

Maybe every generation deserves their own Musketeer film. Thanks to Hyams and Quintano, this generation got ripped off.

NONE FOR ALL New Musketeer film crosses swords with tradition


Justin Chambers, Catherine Deneuve, Tim Roth, Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea. Directed by Peter Hyams. Rated PG-13. 105 Minutes.


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