A big, rollicking entertainment that draws liberally from its forebears, “La Femme Musketeer” is a whole lot of fun — at times quite good, and occasionally bad enough that it’s still kinda good. Essentially positioned as “The Three Musketeers: The Next Generation,” Hallmark has delivered a lavishly appointed exercise in swashbuckling and silliness that plays like a lighthearted romp. There’s also a sprawling cast of appealing faces old and new — including Michael York reprising the role of D’Artagnan a full 30 years after he starred in Richard Lester’s bawdy films.
Although Lester’s “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers” doubtless provide tonal inspiration for this revival, “La Femme” (a two-parter condensed into one night) is really more of an amalgam of every Musketeer movie ever made — including some of the acrobatics Gene Kelly brought to the 1948 version. Indeed, there’s almost a “Matrix”-like quality to some of the swordplay. Who knew turning cartwheels while brandishing a blade was so easy?
Writer Sandra Weintraub seemingly has employed a cut-and-paste approach, mirroring scenes from earlier movies while adding a layer to the story, with the sons and daughter of Alexandre Dumas’ original quartet at the heart of the action.
D’Artagnan (York) has long since retired to the country, but he’s taught daughter Valentine (Brit actress Susie Amy) everything he knows, and she’s eager to follow in his footsteps. Sexism be damned, she’s off to Paris to join the king’s Musketeers, quickly encountering a trio of newcomers who are, of course, the sons of dad’s old buddies Athos, Aramis and Porthos.
Unfortunately, France is a rather unsettled place, with Cardinal Mazarin (Gerard Depardieu, frequently grumbling unintelligibly) manipulating youthful King Louis (Freddie Sayers), who’s more interested in savoring the rock-star perks of nobility than ruling the country.
Mazarin’s henchmen include a deadly fencing savant, Villeroi (Marcus Jean Pirae), who despises the Musketeers, as well as Lady Bolton (Nastassja Kinski), a femme fatale who uses her charms to function as an assassin.
OK, so the names aren’t Cardinal Richelieu and Milady de Winter, but the formula is the same. Denied a place in the Musketeers, Valentine comes into possession of a letter that Mazarin hopes to use in blackmailing the king, placing her in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the elder Musketeers — who have launched their own traveling show, cashing in on their names — reunite with D’Artagnan, eventually joining their progeny (all for one, etc.) in a pitched battle to keep the “vive” in “la France.”
More studious types will find much they can giggle about, beginning with the positively hilarious fact that no one can seemingly figure out that lovely Valentine is a girl. I realize they’re French, but still. …
It’s all handled deftly enough by director Steve Boyum, complete with a rousing score by Mader, positively florid costumes (courtesy of Carlos Rosario), hissable villains and a playful tone — in short, about all anyone could ask for, given the surroundings. Even the action sequences provide just enough danger without shedding much blood — with these Musketeers, like some of their predecessors, as apt to club their foes senseless as to skewer them.
In his 60s now, York appears to have a blast as D’Artagnan, while John Rhys-Davies delivers nice comic relief in what amounts to a cameo as Porthos — one of the patriarchs huffing and puffing their way through combat.
The younger cast is also fine, though the petite Amy is a bit less than convincing as she dispatches multiple opponents as if this were a 17th-century “Alias.”
Hallmark Entertainment’s “new to you” theory hinges on the notion that anything pre-1980 with a recognizable title (see recent remakes of “The Lion in Winter” and “King Solomon’s Mines”) is ripe for a renaissance. While that conceit doesn’t always pan out, the diverting “Musketeer” contains all the requisite ingredients to make this French trifle a satisfying feast.