“The Musketeer,” the most recent adaptation of Alexandre Dumas” classic novel “The Three Musketeers,” mixes traditional swashbuckling with martial arts choreography with exhilarating results, but the unfortunate casting of a generic, square-jawed soap opera type actor in the lead role of D”Artagnan dooms an otherwise entertaining movie.
The film takes place in the 17th century, when instability between France, Spain and England threatens to erupt into a full-scale war. The Musketeers, sworn to protect the King of France, have been suspended by the tyrannical and manipulative Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea), who along with his cohort Fevre (Tim Roth), is plotting to unseat the King. (Those wacky Catholics are at it again.)
D”Artagnan (Justin Chambers), the son of a Musketeer, has spent his young life training to join the ranks of this elite cadre, and when Richelieu and Fevre begin to move on the King, D”Artagnan is given the opportunity to prove his worth. With Mena Suvari (“American Beauty”) at his side as a peasant who falls for the dashing wannabe Musketeer, D”Artagnan attempts to save the day.
I think I”m finally beginning to understand the plight of women who are forced to sit through movie after movie of female characters played by actresses who are chosen for their measurements rather than their acting talent. Justin Chambers is flat, unconvincing and altogether irritating as he delivers his lines like a high school kid auditioning for a play.
With a supporting cast featuring amazing actors like Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs”) and Stephen Rea (“The Crying Game”), one would think that “The Musketeer” would have to boast a respected actor as the lead, but Chambers and Suvari play out their scenes together as if they are reading it for the first time. (That casting director is going to have to answer for this in Purgatory.)
The other Musketeers are all excellent, including Porthos, played by Steven Spiers (“Topsy Turvy”) and Aramis, played by Nick Moran, best known as card-player Fast Eddie from “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”
Tim Roth is deliciously evil as Fevre, the one eyed, black-clad sidekick to Richelieu who shows no mercy and hunts D”Artagnan with all of his cunning and ferocity.
The action in the film is enthralling. (It”s almost, but not quite, enthralling enough to distract from the failings of the film.) Xin-Xin Xiong, veteran Hong Kong action director, brings the swordfight to a new level as Musketeers pull off flips, dives and death-defying stunts to rank with the most heart-pounding martial arts films.
Although the camera work is sometimes a little too close and jumbled to tell what is going on, the majority of the action is top-notch.
D”Artagnon fights the Cardinal”s guards while hanging from a stone tower by a grappling hook, while suspending himself across ceiling rafters with one hand while fighting with the other. And finally, by performing a balancing act on a conveniently located wine cellar full of exceedingly tall ladders that he and Fevre must traverse to do battle.
All of these vertigo-inspiring sequences are both electrifying and ridiculous, because unless they were fighting on the moon, there”s no way that gravity works the way it does in some scenes. But one has to be willing to suspend belief every once in a while in action movies, even when Newtonian laws of physics are at stake. Hell, look at “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”
The atmosphere of the film and the setting is often well done but occasionally overdone. As the Musketeers travel down dark, torch-lit, cobblestone alleys with cannons booming, the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” kept popping into my head.
Maybe they should go for subtle, or maybe I”ve just been to Disney World one too many times.