The Musketeer Review
Of all the classic Hollywood stories- King Arthur, Robin Hood, anything based on the Bible- it's always been surprising that there has never been a definitive version of the Three Musketeers novel by Alexandre Dumas. George Sidney's 1948 film, with Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan and Lana Turner as Milady de Winter, came close, as did Richard Lester's 1973 film with Michael York as D'Artagnan and a superb cast including the likes of Charlton Heston (as Richlieu) and Spike Milligan (as Bonancieux), but there have also been poor efforts like Stephen Herek's 1993 film, Randall Wallace's abysmal The Man in the Iron Mask, and now this, Peter Hyams' ill-conceived and badly flawed attempt at updating the story, albeit with little success.
The plot is yawningly familiar, if barely comprehensible at points. D'Artagnan (Chambers) witnesses the murder of his parents as a young boy by the villainous Febre (Roth), and blinds Febre in one eye as vengeance. When an adult, he heads for Paris to become a musketeer, at a time when Cardinal Richlieu (Rea) has achieved a disproportionate amount of power, which he plans to use to bring about politicial tension between England and its Dutch allies. Needless to say, this is almost entirely ignored in favour of a deeply insipid romantic subplot between D'Artagnan and Francesca (Suvari), a serving wench, as well as deeply, deeply dull scenes when D'Artagnan fights people, for no apparent reason.
The film fails on so many levels that it's almost impossible to start criticising individual parts, but the worst problem is that Hyams, the journeyman director incarnate, has attempted to update the film in the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which would be a commenable idea if done by Ang Lee or even Martin (The Mask of Zorro) Campbell, but doesn't work at all, as Hyams is seemingly unable to make the action scenes interesting, let alone exciting. The only sequence that is even briefly diverting is a fight on ladders at the end of the film, which is both a pallid imitation of Once upon a Time in China and its ilk, which feature far more exciting scenes, and is dramatically nonsensical. It doesn't help that Hyams' cinematography is appalling, with scene after scene taking place in virtual darkness for no apparent reason, and making it hard to tell what is going on, let alone actually get involved in the storyline.
The performances divide neatly into slumming (Rea, Deneuve) and incompetent (virtually everyone else). Chambers is astonishingly bad as D'Artagnan, with precisely no charisma or acting ability, but it's a mark of the film's failure that he doesn't actually appear that awful in context, matched as he is by Mena Suvari (fine in contemporary roles, dreadfully miscast) and, spare us, Nick Moran as Aramis, complete with Mockney accent, which is, however, preferable to the 'Allo, 'Allo tones adopted by some of the cast; at times, one wonders if the film isn't some sort of tax write-off, so inept is the execution of material that is rich with dramatic potential.
So, you may ask, why 4/10 for such a dismal film? The answer is Tim Roth, who single-handedly elevates the film from the mire every time he appears. Although a pale shadow of his Archibald Cunningham in Rob Roy, Roth is a splendid villain, and his decision to play the part as a normal, if one-eyed, man who is, unfortunately, compelled to kill people in order to stay occupied pays handsome dividends, given that he gets the few decent lines, especially when he muses, straight-faced, on why it will be necessary to start killing young boys and nuns for his day's amusement.Without Roth, this would be barely tolerable (as indeed it isn't whenever he's off screen); with him, it's watchable enough at times, but a deeply misguided attempt at jumping on a bandwagon that never really existed in the first place.
A surprisingly weak transfer from Universal, this is frequently grainy, and is not at all impressive for such a recent film. One imagines that the quality control supervisor fell asleep while watching it, or otherwise that the studio assumed that nobody would actually want to own the film.
A fairly dynamic mix is provided, which works best in the action scenes, but has the unfortunate effect of making David Arnold's score sound muffled and indistinct throughout. This is also a problem in the DTS mix, although to a lesser extent; dialogue is fine, however, and there is a good mix of surround effects.
An utterly pathetic selection are provided; the two 'featurettes' are of no interest at all, and run a combined total of around five minutes, most of which is made up of footage from the film. The trailer is essentially the film's action scenes cut together in two minutes, and the production notes are the usual insincere nonsense about how the filmmakers 'had a vision for Dumas' book'. If this vision was to make a mockery of it, they certainly succeeded.
A badly flawed and frequently downright boring film, albeit one partially salvaged by a fun performance from Tim Roth, is presented on a disc that shows that Universal's commitment to the DVD format is waning somewhat, given the slightly subpar technical quality and non-existent extras. Disappointing on just about every level.