Sunday, October 30, 2011


 "Resident Evil" producer and director Paul W.S. Anderson should stick to making either science fiction horror chillers, like "Event Horizon" and "The Soldier," or brawny actioneers, like "Mortal Combat," and "Death Race." These genres thrive on larger-than-life characters performing heavy-handed histrionics in over-the-top situations. Gadgets and gimmicks proliferate in both genres, typically with the combatants defeating their enemy because they display greater competence with their weapons. Now, Anderson has ventured outside of his usual bailiwick with "The Three Musketeers." The immortal Alexander Dumas novel emphasized court intrigue, chivalrous romance, and colorful swordplay in a 17th century setting. Indeed, "The Three Musketeers" has been a favorite of filmmakers since the French produced the first cinematic version in 1903. Since that long lost classic appeared over a century ago, more than 30 remakes and various sequels have followed. Hollywood conjured up two unusual adaptations. First, Mascot Pictures released a serial in 1933 which cast ten-gallon hero John Wayne as a one of the three eponymous protagonists in the Arabian Desert as French Foreign Legionnaires. Second, Universal Studios shifted the storyline to the Texas-Mexican border for the short-lived 1960s’ western television series "Laredo" which swapped six-guns for swords, but captured the essence of the Musketeers' tongue-in-cheek shenanigans. Anderson and scenarists Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies have tried to update “The Three Musketeers” (** OUT OF ****) for contemporary audiences by adding anachronistic elements which are often found in steampunk science fiction and fantasy. Instead, had Anderson imitated the latest literary trend that Quirk Books launched with Seth Grahame-Smith in 2009 in his parody of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” entitled “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” he might have fared better.

“The Three Musketeers” boasts an opening gambit which is half James Bond and half “Resident Evil.” Athos (Matthew Macfadyen of “Robin Hood”), Porthos (Ray Stevenson of “Punisher: War Games”), and Aramis (Luke Evans of “Blitz”) are on a secret mission in Venice, Italy, accompanied by Athos’ girlfriend Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich of “Ultraviolet”) to steal Leonardo da Vinci’s plans for an airborne galleon. They have to filch three keys to break into a well-guarded vault that houses the blueprints, and it amounts to an impossible mission. Nevertheless, they pull off the impossible, only to have the treacherous Milady double-cross them with drugged drinks. She hands the plans over to their English enemy, the obnoxious Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy”), and Buckingham and Milady leave our heroes passed out of the floor. A year elapses, and young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman of “The Butterfly Effect”) rides to Paris with the blessings of his parents, one a former Musketeer, to join the elite King’s guard. During the journey, he encounters the evil Captain Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen of “Casino Royale”), the chief of Cardinal Richelieu's guard. Rochefort insults D'Artagnan’s horse Buttercup, and our hero challenges the best swordsman in Europe to a swordfight. Instead, Rochefort whips out pistols, and D'Artagnan avoids death narrowly because the guns misfire. Miraculously, Milady intercedes for D'Artagnan since she thinks he is handsome.

Once he arrives in Paris, the tenacious D'Artagnan pursues Rochefort. During his pursuit, he encounters Athos, Porthos, and Aramis separately and each challenge him to a duel. Eventually, when they meet to clash swords, forty of Richelieu's guards interrupt them. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis join D'Artagnan, and they whip the guards. Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds”) insists that young King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox of “St Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold”) discipline them for their behavior. Louis XIII sends them on their way with little more than a verbal reprimand. Like Milady, Louis feels sympathetic to D'Artagnan. Later, in an effort to humiliate Buckingham and force Louis XIII to have his wife, Queen Anne (Juno Temple), executed for cuckolding him with Lord Buckingham, Richelieu has Milady steal diamond necklace and hide it in the Tower of London. D'Artagnan and the Musketeers make it their business to steal back the diamonds.

The best "Musketeer" movies have been frivolous, light-hearted swashbucklers with nimble swordplay and charismatic characters. “A Hard Day’s Night” director Richard Lester made the most memorable remake that emerged as two films “The Three Musketeers” (1973) and “The Four Musketeers” (1974). Although Anderson's take on the chivalrous Dumas tale qualifies as ambitious with impressive costumes and production values, the overall treatment is nevertheless uneven and ultimately uninspired. Anderson lacks the light touch and helms this period outing with a heavy hand. In a misguided effort to revitalize this venerable yarn of derring-do for contemporary audiences, he has resorted to outlandish gadgets such as scuba gear, complex vaults, and airborne galleons. Basically, Anderson seems to be imitating swashbucklers like Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1988) and Mathew Vaughn's "Stardust" (2007). Meantime, he has forsaken the essence of any good "Musketeer" movie, the camaraderie among Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and D'Artagnan.

Mind you, Anderson's "Three Musketeers" doesn't qualify as a complete fiasco. This $90-million international production is a triumph of Pierre-Yves Gayraud's extravagant costumes and Paul Denham Austerberry's sophisticated production designs. Although Anderson filmed this epic on location in Germany, the sprawling Castle Herrenchiemsee in Bavaria stands in splendidly for the actual Palace of Versailles. If showy costumes, production values, and a handsome cast constituted a good movie, then this "Three Musketeers" would qualify as a stunner. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Sadly, nothing about the use of 3-D distinguishes "Rambo" lenser Glen MacPherson's impeccable widescreen cinematography. Meantime, Anderson must have been tugged in two directions by his writers who were as different as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Alex Litvak, who penned the horror opus "Predators," and Andrew Davies, who wrote the two chick flick "Brigit Jones" romancers, seem to alternate between a diamond heist and sword fighting without any time out for romantic interludes. The chief differences between this “Three Musketeers” and previous remakes is the use of airships to accelerate the momentum of the plot. Whereas our heroes galloped on horseback in the earlier epics, Anderson and his scenarists rely on gimmicks to speed up the action. Anderson doesn’t have a clue about how to wield comedy and all the jokes and pranks fall flat, particularly with Planchet who serves as the butt of the humor. Matters aren't helped that the actors cast as the leads. They are hopelessly overshadowed by a stronger supporting cast, principally Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, and Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz who are better known to audiences. “The Three Musketeers” never generates the zest that either the silent Douglas Fairbanks’ classic or the famous Richard Lester version with Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, and Oliver Reed had. Altogether, “The Three Musketeers” buckles because it doesn’t swash!