Fifth major screen version of Alexandre Dumas’ classic swashbuckling saga is a handsome but pallid affair aimed squarely at a young Disney audience. Those who have never seen a previous “Musketeers” adaptation or a truly exciting Hollywood adventure in the grand style may be swept along, but the mechanical, paint-by-numbers feel of this outing is too evident to ignore. The Disney marketing combine and “Young Guns With Swords” angle will generate some good initial B.O., but hanging on solidly until the new year looks like an iffy proposition.
Although filmed on beautiful locations in Austria and elsewhere, pic has an Americanized slant, with the good guys all speaking in Yank vernacular and the baddies sporting British accents. No doubt the straightest, and possibly most faithful rendition of the perennial favorite, it is quite tame compared with Richard Lester’s wild and woolly 1974 version.
In many ways the prototypical romantic adventure tale, filled with innumerable fights, flights, rescues, close shaves and derring-do, “The Three Musketeers” also offers up enjoyably edifying notions about loyalty, patriotism, camaraderie and a devil-may-care attitude about life. All of this is present on the surface of this outing, but that’s where it remains, as the film manages the unusual feat of being both breezy and tedious.
Set in 16th century France, yarn begins as the noble Musketeers, guardians of the king, are disbanded by Cardinal Richelieu (Tim Curry), who is conniving to wrest the throne from the weak teenaged monarch. Dashing D’Artagnan (Chris O’Donnell), whose late father was a Musketeer, is hoping to join their ranks, but the only ones left are renegades Aramis (Charlie Sheen), Athos (Kiefer Sutherland) and Porthos (Oliver Platt).
Soon after proving his worth to them with his swordplay, D’Artagnan is captured, but upon his rescue is able to inform his friends about Richelieu’s dastardly plot to form an alliance with Britain. Chased to Calais, they intercept his eminence’s messenger, the crafty Milady (Rebecca De Mornay), and eventually return to Paris to disrupt Richelieu’s plans.
All these incidents provide innumerable opportunities for energetic action, blazing duels, horseback escapes and nonchalant bravado, but after the first 10 minutes one has seen enough jumping on and off moving objects and bodies conveniently falling into haystacks for five pictures. The moves are staged and executed proficiently, but generally without true flair, wit or imagination, investing the legendary tale with no new resonance or emotion.
Where the picture falls short can be seen very simply in the casting, as precisely two of the leading players get the tone deliciously right, thereby showing up the deficiencies of the others and demonstrating that, when performing a familiar text, it helps to have style and attitude. Curry steals the film as the evil Richelieu, bringing lip-smacking glee to his naughty deeds and pronouncements, and making the intended bon mots in David Loughery’s workmanlike script sound much better than they actually are. Film comes alive whenever Curry’s onscreen.
Also aces is Platt, always the one to watch when all the young Turks are working in ensemble. A bit portly and unusual looking, Platt has the sense of relish, experience and tossed-off humor that defines a Musketeer.
By contrast, Sheen and Sutherland mostly contribute a hardiness and athleticism, while O’Donnell’s bland D’Artagnan epitomizes the Disneylandish side of this production.
A treacherous villainess at the outset, De Mornay eventually brings out other aspects of the icily beautiful Milady, while the lovely Gabrielle Anwar, as the queen, and Julie Delpy, in the very minimized role of Constance (played so memorably by Raquel Welch in 1974), are present for strictly decorative purposes.
Enacting a stereotype to memorable effect is Michael Wincott, who out-Rathbones Basil as Richelieu’s sadistic, black-eyepatched, blade-wielding henchman.
Production values are strong, with Dean Semler’s fluid camera nicely capturing the diverse European locations, notably including Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. Wolf Kroeger’s production design and John Mollo’s costumes are resplendent, Michael Kamen’s score is nothing if not energetic, and John F. Link’s editing is snappy within scenes, even if the picture overall feels a bit long.