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The Musketeer   B

Universal Pictures

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Hyams
Writer: Gene Quintano (based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas)
Cast: Justin Chambers, Tim Roth, Mena Suvari, Catherine Deneuve, Stephen Rea.

Review by Rob Vaux

INTERIOR, STUDIO EXECUTIVE'S OFFICE: DAY

Director: Hi Bob. You wanted to see me?

Exec: Yeah Pete, come on in. We got a new project for you. Swashbuckling flick called The Musketeer.

Director: Uh-huh.

Exec: Classic story. Good guys, bad guys, a pretty girl in distress. And the title's testing well. Just rolls off the tongue: The Musketeer.

Director: Didn't there used to be three of them?

Exec: Come again?

Director: I'm fairly certain Dumas' novel had three musketeers in it. Four if you count D'Artagnan.

Exec: These are the go-go days of the new millennium! No one has time for three musketeers. So we're just gonna give them one instead. And we're gonna have tons of those Matrix-type fight scenes that the kids are so into.

Director: Gee, I don't know...

Exec: Come on! It'll be fun!

Director: Yeah, but even so...

Exec: Do it, and I'll never bring up End of Days again.

Director: I'm in.

Thus begets The Musketeer, a surprisingly decent bit of fun to close out summer's dog days. As directed by the relentlessly competent Peter Hyams, it always maintains a pleasing front, and keeps its swashbuckling spirit intact -- even if it sometimes slips a bit on the details.

Much has been made of the film's fight choreography, created by "Hong Kong legend" Xin-Xin Xiong. The hero, D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers), spends a great deal of time dancing across barrels, flipping up onto coaches, and holding off countless evil fencers with his dazzling acrobatics. The fight scenes are indeed astounding, although they can't match Crouching Tiger and Hyams doesn't always film them as well as he could. They also stumble on technical gaffes from time to time: the actors occasionally hover when they shouldn't, drawing attention to the (digitally removed) wires holding them up. Nevertheless, it took a lot of skill to pull them off, and The Musketeer succeeds admirably in bringing Asian-style martial arts to the look and feel of Dumas' swashbucklers. (If you have to ask what Asian-style martial arts are doing in 17th-century France, you're clearly in the wrong movie.)

Nor is the film limited to just its fight scenes. The story is more than serviceable, and Hyams (who doubled as cinematographer) knows how to tell it with a minimum of fuss. Despite the title, there actually are three musketeers, though they take a back seat to D'Artagnan's heroics. The orphaned son of a musketeer, Big D grows up with a mastery of swordsmanship, a murdered father to avenge, and a burning desire to say "all for one and one for all" whenever he can. He soon finds himself in Paris, where the musketeers are on the outs and King Louis XIII is threatened by the schemes of Cardinal Richeleiu (Stephen Rea) and his pet assassin Febre (Tim Roth, who's cornered the market on cool bad guys this year). Conveniently enough, Febre killed D'Artagnan's father many years ago, so a grudge match is clearly in the making. The evil bastard adds fuel to the fire by kidnapping both the queen (Catherine Deneuve) and the cute little scullery maid (Mena Suvari) who D'Artagnan's been eyeing. What can one do but rouse the musketeers from their drunken stupor and go kick some foppish ass?

Hyams keeps the drama light and the atmosphere moody, with the lighting limited to "authentic" 17th-century sources (candles and torches). Very little else in The Musketeer is authentic, but it's hard to care when the swords start flashing. With the fights taking care of themselves, the rest of the movie relies upon the genial performances and some tart one-liners from screenwriter Gene Quintano. The cast is in fine form, though Suvari is a tad too contemporary and Rea's character lacks the consistency to really let him shine. The true show-stealer is Roth, who knows exactly how to handle a swashbuckling bad guy. In Rob Roy, he participated in one of the greatest swordfights ever put on film, and he steps into the role of the truly evil Febre without missing a beat. You can just see this guy wandering through the Paris streets looking for stray dogs to kick. With films like this, a good villain is 70% of your success; Roth's delicious nastiness covers the spread and then some.

Though clearly courting the youth market, The Musketeer has enough self-respect to keep the bubble-gum to a minimum. It knows when to take itself seriously, and conveys a proper sense of fun without becoming self-mocking. While it earns few points for originality, no one can fault it for not trying. The wire fu fight scenes will forever mark it as a product of post-Crouching Tiger cinema, but its swashbuckling spirit would be equally at home in Dumas' time. Despite the claims in the ad, you've seen The Musketeer before. The good news is, it doesn't matter.

Review published 09.10.2001.

* * *

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