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The Musketeer

  the musketeer
Justin Chambers draws his sword, hoping the glint will splash some goddamn light into the murky cinematography.

© 2001, Universal
All Rights Reserved

It's really bad enough to make yet another film from Alexandre Dumas' classic novel "The Three Musketeers." It's even worse to veer wildly from the source material, losing the story of the Musketeers, and feature choreography from the "legendary" (aren't they all recently?) fight master Xiong Xin Xin. The easy logic would be to just stand back and wonder why. Why bastardize a classic so much when very little effort in translating the book could've produced an entertaining film? But that kind of thinking will drive you insane.

D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers) is a young man looking for vengeance. After watching his parents be killed by the evil Febre (Tim Roth) as a little boy, the young swordsman has come back into town looking to settle the score. D'Artagnan finds help in former Musketeers Athos and Porthos as they try to save the Queen Of France (Catherine Deneuve) from the evil machinations of the Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea). Along the way, D'Artagnan finds love in a poor woman named Constance (Mena Suvari) who redeems the hateful young man's heart.

If the eyes are considered the windows to the soul, then I think someone needs to remind director Peter Hyams of that. A veteran of unrelentingly murky films, Hyams has always favored dark, moody lighting. Acting as his own cinematographer, I can respect Hyams and his carefully controlled photography (when it's right, it's some of the best in the business). However, the dim lighting scheme doesn't always fit the stories he is trying to tell. Maybe for his space thrillers "Outland" and "2010" shadows and mood were needed, but "The Musketeer" (IMDb listing) aspires to be high flying, swashbuckling fun.

Through Hyams and his photography, "The Musketeer" is anything but fun. When the swords start clanging, the heroes start leaping and the faces start emoting, you can't see anything clearly enough to enjoy it. The whole film is performed in the shadows. If this was simply to disguise the stunt doubles, it worked. Yet the lighting scheme continues throughout the entire picture. Without any relief, it's impossible to feel anything but boredom for this story.

In trying to compete with Hyams' lighting, the actors seem to give up right from the very start. Not in some time have I seen such blatant check cashing in an ensemble of actors. Brilliant actors like Tim Roth, Stephen Rea and Catherine Deneuve all look bored out of their minds with this film. There is nothing to challenge them in the script, their roles aren't exactly large, starring affairs and they have to play second-fiddle to a talentless hunk (more on that later). What else can you assume they took these parts for? Big, fat paychecks.

If it was a simple payday, then I can forgive them. However, I cannot forgive the casting of pretty boy Justin Chambers ("The Wedding Planner") in the role of vengeful swordmaster D'Artagnan. This guy has got to be the luckiest Gap clerk alive as he mumbles and battles his way to superstardom. It isn't so much an inferior performance as it is a lazy one. There is just too much relying on his good looks to get him through the more difficult scenes. Pairing him up with co-star Mena Suvari wasn't a bright idea either, as the two share absolutely no romantic chemistry.

Liberally touted over the stars and the story in the marketing campaign for "The Musketeer" is the complex fight choreography. It is there as well that "The Musketeer" fails to do anything of interest. The film has no entry points for the elaborate Rube Goldberg style stunts, so to shoehorn these unwieldy set pieces into the flow of the picture fails the filmmakers terribly. It's all far too gimmicky for its own good.

Every fight scene ends up in a prop-infested room where all sorts of flips, wire flying and general jumping around can occur. Look! It's a room full of ladders. A room full of barrels. A tower full of ropes. Undoubtedly, this will appeal to the kids out there who don't know better. Yet, for a more seasoned filmgoer, and coming after the juggernaut known as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," this is sloppy seconds.

If anything, I own Charlie Sheen, Chris O'Donnell, Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt a big apology. I guess their 1993 adaptation of "The Three Musketeers" wasn't the worst version ever made.

Gentleman, I am sorry.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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