It appears that venerable, time-tested approaches to adventure yarns just aren’t good enough for Hollywood these days. Coming fresh off the ready-for-the-WB-network Gen-Y western stylings of “American Outlaws” is “The Musketeer,” which presents an even more curious take on melding the traditional with the current cinematic trends: placing Hong Kong-style wirework choreography in the world of Alexandre Dumas’ ageless swashbuckling heroes. Not a terrible idea per se, but entrusting a hack like Peter Hyams to pull off such a risky endeavor is.
Xin-Xin Xiong, an esteemed HK action veteran who has worked with no less than Tsui Hark on several occasions, choreographed the high-flying swordfights, but as captured by Hyams’ inept camera, it’s difficult to tell if he’s done a noteworthy job. If there is a wrong angle to shoot from or an ill-advised edit to make, Hyams goes for it, and the choppy result are a number of incoherently assembled flips and leaps being passed off as action scenes. Hyams only figures out where to place the camera for an elaborately staged duel that takes place on a number of unsteady, ever-shifting ladders, but this one genuinely interesting set piece–the only one that allows one to clearly follow the action–also happens to be the film’s last.
But there are plenty of other problems plaguing “The Musketeer.” The title character is young D’Artagnan (Justin Chambers), who has two goals in life: to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the King’s royal fighting force; but most of all to seek out the man who killed his parents 14 years prior: Febre (Tim Roth, appropriately camping it up), a ruthless enforcer to the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea, sleepwalking). That the film is called “The Musketeer” rather than “The Three Musketeers” is no accident; actually, a more appropriate title would’ve been “The Super-Musketeer,” for this version of D’Artagnan is downright invincible, able to defeat any number of opponents with his gravity-defying derring-do. Such a heavy-handed approach is made even more ridiculous by the charisma vacuum known as Chambers, who lacks the forceful presence to make an engaging hero, let alone a convincing superhero.
However, it’s doubtful any lead could have made the awful script by Gene Quintano (who previously worked with Hyams on the Van Damme vehicle “Sudden Death”) any more tolerable. The primary revenge plot is a bore, which is still better than can be said about D’Artagnan’s soggy romance with a chambermaid (a very out-of-place Mena Suvari); that thread is memorable for all the wrong reasons, in particular some forced and downright embarrassing sexual innuendo. Too bad Quintano didn’t heed a line he gave the Suvari character–“Sometimes it’s better to say nothing”–for the dialogue as a whole is atrocious, especially the clanging one-liners that pop up at the most inappropriate moments. Take this gem during what’s supposed to be the “tense” climax: “I’m not dead, so why don’t you hurry up and kill him already?” While enduring the ordeal that is “The Musketeer,” you may find yourself asking the person next to you — that is, if there is anyone else in the auditorium — “I’m not dead, so why don’t you hurry up and kill me already?