The Musketeer (review)

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All for One, and All for Naught

A few years ago, there was a positively silly Hollywood retelling of a classic Alexandre Dumas adventure story. The Three Musketeers starred — oh, it’s almost impossible not to giggle thinking of this — Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, and Oliver Platt as, variously Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, 17th-century French royal soldiers. And — excuse me while I giggle some more — Chris O’Donnell, boy dunder, as their young compatriot, D’Artagnan.

Oh, those were heady, frisky times, in 1993: Clinton had just taken the White House, Marky Mark was grabbing his crotch in Calvin Klein underwear ads, MS-DOS 6.0 had just been released, and word was flying across the 20 HTTP servers on the Internet about a little piece of software called Mosaic. And yet, those were innocent times, too. Who could have guessed that we were mere years away from a time when Marky Mark’s mostly successful attempt at legitimate acting would inspire his CK cohorts to, what the hell, give it a shot, too? Who would have guessed that Charlie Sheen, God bless him, was not the most absurd casting choice for the role of a European Renaissance swashbuckler?

“Oh, good:
it’s still there.”

But now we are living in the rough, post-dot-com bust, economic slowdown of the early 21st century, and even guys who used to grab their crotches for Calvin Klein are looking for work. And so we get The Musketeer, featuring Justin Chambers, who plays — and mispronounces his own character’s name whenever possible — D’Artagnan. Chambers (also unbearable in The Wedding Planner) makes Chris O’Donnell, God bless him, look like Errol Flynn, and the combination of derivative Euro pretension and faux Hong Kong martial arts chic here makes one long for the unassuming stupidity of O’Donnell and Hollywood. Could it only be 8 years separating that carefree time from these dark days?

Ya gotta love a film that supplies its own best commentary right in its dialogue. After one of the spectacularly dull fight scenes, D’Artagnan’s Ben Kenobi, Planchet (Jean-Pierre Castaldi), tells his victorious protege: “For a minute I thought you planned to talk them into unconsciousness.” See, no, that’s what he does to the audience. As an actor, Chambers has the range of slack-jaw Freddie Prinze Jr., and his hat has more charisma that he — who is, recall, the star of the film — does. I’d rather watch the mud on his far more charismatic boots dry.

“Even a fabulous costume
cannot hide the beauty
of my crotch.”

But don’t imagine that casting a model in the all-important lead is the only thing wrong with this film, the only thing that makes one cry to the heavens, How could a just deity allow this?! Oh no. So many others are to blame, too. Screenwriter Gene Quintano’s adaptation of Dumas, which could be called “loose” at best, is hamhanded and haphazard, a highly diluted Princess Bride/Star Wars revenge story — D’Artagnan’s parents were killed before his very eyes by bad-ass man in black, Febre (Tim Roth: Planet of the Apes), so D’Artagnan vows to hunt him down and kill him, blah blah blah (and he’ll inspire the demoralized Musketeers and save France in the process, of course). The Princess Bride and Star Wars didn’t invent revenge stories, of course — they both borrow from far older sources — but The Musketeer inexcusably steals precise specifics particularly from Star Wars, like the cantina fight and a shameful shot-for-shot recreation of its medals ceremony. And the script’s laziness extends to its unique story points, too, like the character who is shot in the chest and then is, inexplicably, just fine. Everything that happens in The Musketeer happens on a schedule, as if the script were written by a computer programmed to place the beats in all the “right” places. D’Artagnan is a klutz with a knife early on, because that’s when the old, burnt-out Musketeers need to laugh at his naivete and go back to their drinking; but when D’Artagnan needs to rally the troops for the “dramatic” finale, he’s suddenly an expert with the blade, because now he needs to impress his elders. Not only have we not seen him practicing, as he claims in the face of their astonishment, but the events in the interim happen so quickly that he hasn’t even had time to practice!

But the acting — other than Chambers’ — saves it, right? Ha. Roth and Stephen Rea (The End of the Affair), as Cardinal Richelieu, are gods of the screen, but they are slumming it here. Roth at least seems to understand that this is a comedy to be played to the OTT hilt, as he does in Planet of the Apes, but Rea could have used a bit of the “NOOOOObody expects the Spanish Inquisition!!!!!” wackiness that goes with the red cloak — he’s taking things way too seriously for a movie starring a guy who used to grab his crotch for a living. Catherine Deneuve (Dancer in the Dark), as the Queen of France, wins the Jeremy Irons Memorial Dungeons and Dragons Award for Self-Abasement, and Mena Suvari (American Beauty) is laughably awful and awkward as the French peasant who falls into a laughably awful and awkward love subplot with D’Artagnan… which, did I mention, involves a skinny-dipping scene. Just shoot me.

But the direction saves it, right? Ha. Director/cinematographer Peter Hyams (End of Days — and that should tell you all you need to know) had the “brilliant” idea to mix some Hong Kong-style martial arts into his annoyingly gauzy, don’t-this-look-like-a-Rembrandt joint U.K./German/Luxemborg production, and so hired famed fight choreographer Xin-Xin Xiong. The fight scenes may indeed be well choreographed, but it’s impossible to tell, so incompetently directed and edited are the action bits, of which there are too few… and I realize that’s like saying, “Waiter! This food is terrible, and the portions are too small!” Anyway, we’re mostly watching stunt doubles — the slender Roth’s is noticeably chunkier than he is — fighting, their faces obscured by hats, beards, and distance, which makes it really hard to care who lives and who dies. Dialogue is obviously dubbed into certain scenes, because no one’s lips are moving; it’s raining/not raining in the final battle sequence, depending on which direction the camera is facing; and dear god, tell me those are not the tracks of automobiles in the muddy, unpaved, 17th-century roads. (They are.)

All his life, Chambers has searched for the Tim Roth man, and when he finds him, he will say, “Hello, I am a Calvin Klein model, you killed my father, prepare for a bad movie.”

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