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Mustn't See Musketeer

Imagine two men swinging off ropes that hang from the top of a 300-foot castle turret. Now picture them swordfighting. This pseudo-joust is a typical scene from The Musketeer, Peter Hyams' remake of the oft-cinematized Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. The film's tag line, "As you've never seen it before," is true only to the extent that the story has never been this painful to watch. While the action sequences, involving wine-barrel jumping and leap frog on horseback, are original and entertaining, the rest of the movie is definitely familiar, if not downright cliched.

The cliches range from the ridiculous to the pedantic, ultimately forming a film that is a cross among Zorro, Batman, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Rapunzel, with some American Beauty spliced in, courtesy of Mena Suvari.

In the beginning, little D'Artagnan watches a tax collector kill his parents, fails to defend them and thereafter vows to become a musketeer and learn the skills needed to extract revenge--with the help of Planchet (Jean-Pierre Castaldi). Years later, adult D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers) meets this man again, who we learn is Febre (Tim Roth), the rebellious Cardinal's malevolent sidekick. We then follow D'Artagnan as he learns of Febre's plot to kill the queen (Catherine Deneuve) and destroy the regency. Meanwhile, D'Artagnan (pronounced differently by every actor) has a confusing and peripheral love affair with Constance Bonacieux (Mena Suvari), the mistress of his boarding house, who is also, incidentally great pals with the Queen. Hmmm....

The original story may have been gripping. However, with the help of Gene Quintano's inane screenplay and the cast's unconvincing portrayals, the plot failed to shine through. Chambers lacks charisma and Roth's role was too cliched for the actor to exhibit an impressive performance. Scenes between D'Artagnan and Constance were the most indigestible. When D'Artagnan walks in on Constance bathing in her American Beauty bathtub pose, he is shocked and apologetic. She is unfazed, although they just met, and says, "You behave as though you've never seen a naked woman before." "I, I, I've never seen one, uh, quite so... naked," he replies. Wow, how romantic.

The dialogue between the male leads isn't any better. Most conversations between men in the movie consist of a few lines and then a brawl. At one point, two random men in the streets of Paris start laughing at the shabbiness of D'Artagnan and Planchet's carriage. The men ask them to move the carriage and D'Artagnan says, "I can't leave until you apologize to my horses."

"Do you know who we are?" they reply.

"Do you know who I am?" asks D'Artagnan. "No."

"Good."

Punch.

Just like Batman. Just not as good.

The action following these three-liners is suspenseful. D'Artagnan fights six men on horseback while riding on top of a carriage and swordfighting while jumping from ladder to ladder, rafter to rafter in a huge barn full of wine barrels. Two actors balance on a horizontal ladder on top of a rafter, advancing and retreating as if on a seesaw.

These combat series, coupled with the breathtaking cinematography, are the movie's only redeeming qualities. The soundtrack draws the audience in, but is too dramatic for the lackluster emotions the actors display. The costumes are ornate but often too extravagant, and they camouflage the action scenes. Most distracting is Febre's black leather ensemble, which is so hide-heavy that it crunches and squeaks every time he moves. With its elementary dialogue, the movie does nothing to suspend disbelief and is merely visually entertaining. When Mena Suvari responds to one of D'Artagnan's saccharine lover lines, she says, "Sometimes it is much better to say nothing." Someone should have told that to the director.

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