Alexandre Dumas is a French novelist, although you wouldn’t know it from all the countless film versions of his books by Americans, including ad nauseam versions of “The 3 Musketeers,” “The Count of Monte Cristo”, and “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Dumas is a popular writer and his books are filled with adventure, politics, and royal intrigue — all the same things that make them such good fodder for action-adventure films. Peter Hyams’ version of Dumas’ “The 3 Musketeers,” called simply The Musketeer, is yet another in a long line of adaptations.
Justin Chambers stars as D’Artagnan, a Musketeer-wannabe who witnessed the murders of his parents by Febre (Tim Roth), the henchman and enforcer for King-wannabe Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea). It seems the only reason Febre killed D’Artagnan’s parents was that they gave him lip. Febre, you see, is something of a homicidal maniac. Flash-forward 14 years, as a now-adult D’Artagnan appears in Paris hoping to join the ranks of the Musketeers like his father before him, but unfortunately the Musketeers have been disbanded and Cardinal Richelieu’s thugs have the run of the city. And oh yeah, Febre is crazier than ever and still working for Richelieu, only now the twosome has a plan to overthrow the King and Queen of France. It’s up to fledgling Musketeer D’Artagnan and a bunch of down-and-out and drunken ex-Musketeers to save the day.
It should be noted that Justin Chambers looks like Chris O’Donnell (Batman and Robin) but with better acting skills, although that isn’t saying much, since my little sister has better acting skills than Chris O’Donnell. Chambers actually looks very convincing as D’Artagnan, the young but overly confident Musketeer. Even though most of Chambers’ stunts and swordfights are done by a very skilled stunt double, Chambers does carry the role well, and actually made me believe that it just might be him doing the stunts. Of course it’s not, as the fact that we never see D’Artagnan’s face in wide shots during the movie’s many swordfights prove.
The rest of the cast acquits themselves well, even Mena Suvari as Francesca, a peasant girl who falls for D’Artagnan and vice versa. Rounding out the cast is Catherine Deneuve as the spunky Queen of France and Bill Treacher as Bonacieux, D’Artagnan’s spry mentor and confidant.
Which brings us to the movie’s real treat: the swordfights. With The Musketeer, director Peter Hyams has chosen to film the fight scenes with an eastern flair. From time to time eagle-eyed moviegoers familiar with Hong Kong sword pics might catch familiar moves within the swordfights of The Musketeer. This is probably because the movie’s stunt coordinator is Xin Xin Xiong, a well-known Hong Kong stunt coordinator who has done a lot of Jet Li’s period action movies. This might explain why the movie’s swordplay relies heavily on Chinese swordfighting techniques rather than any “French” style.
The movie’s ultimate fight occurs, appropriately enough, at the end between Febre and D’Artagnan in a wine cellar that involves the two combatants literally leaping from ladder to ladder while doing battle in midair with swords. It’s quite a sight, and easily trumps the movie’s other fight scenes.
While action and adventure is alive and well in The Musketeer, the movie has quite a few flaws. One is director/cinematographer Hyams’ art direction. Hyams has elected to shoot much of the film in darken rooms or cramped quarters. I’m not much of a French historian, and perhaps the French rooms were actually dark like this on most occasions, but I can’t help but think director Hyams made the action scenes dark on purpose, the more to hide the fact that Justin Chambers’ D’Artagnan is actually a Chinese stunt double. Then again, this could be an aesthetic choice that had nothing to do with trying to hide the stuntman.
Another negative is the presence of a subdued and seemingly disinterested Tim Roth. Roth, who is normally a very good villain, is as dark and somber as his character’s black uniform. He is supposed to be an arch nemesis of D’Artagnan, but the two men’s grudge doesn’t seem apparent, and this takes away some of the “grudge match” factor in their finale swordfight. Tim Roth is normally a very reliable actor, but seems to have trouble staying awake in The Musketeer.
Is this movie a good adaptation? Oh God, no. There’s much better versions out there, and in the same token, there’s much worst versions out there, too. What The Musketeer does have is a good sense of adventure and a constant “fun” feel to it, and if not taken too seriously, it’s a good way to waste 90 minutes. As the clich’ goes, “The book is better,” although I don’t think the book’s swordplay was ever this fun or this creative.
Peter Hyams (director) / Alexandre Dumas (novel), Gene Quintano (screenplay)
CAST: Catherine Deneuve …. The Queen
Mena Suvari …. Francesca
Stephen Rea …. Cardinal Richelieu
Tim Roth …. Febre
Justin Chambers …. D’Artagnan
Bill Treacher …. Bonacieux
Daniel Mesguich …. King Louis