starring Justin Chambers, Catherine Deneuve, Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea
screenplay by Gene Quintano
directed by Peter Hyams
by Walter Chaw There is a moment in the trailer for Peter Hyams's absolutely abominable The Musketeer where a series of scenes are edited in such a way as to suggest that Justin Chambers's dashing D'Artagnan is promising stunned-looking waif Francesca (Mena Suvari) he will return for her. In the film, in truth, D'Artagnan makes the promise to his fallen horse (it's an easy mistake to make). I mention this to right an injustice, for the great beast lying there frothing in all its exhausted equine glory turns in what is easily the best performance of the whole catastrophe. I felt a lot of sympathy for that poor steed, the only character in the film with which I had even a moment's identification: we'd both been ridden hard and put away wet.
The Musketeer is 90 minutes of relentless garbage. It begins with a miserably bland prologue that lulls one into believing it couldn't possibly get any worse, then promptly buggers all expectations by getting continuously worse for its entire running time. Looking at their odious track record, that someone would still see fit to give über-hack director Peter Hyams (End of Days) and kinda-smart-for-a-monkey screenwriter Gene Quintano (Police Academy 3 and 4) $50.00 to shoot a Bah Mitzvah video much less the $50 million it took to bring this stillbirth to the screen counts for at least two signs of the apocalypse.
If only The Musketeer's problems lay solely with the flaccid direction and the botchy, one-liner ridden screenplay. But no, the devastation is evenly distributed to each and every aspect of the production. Chunk-o-hunk bimbo of the moment Justin Chambers betrays all the emoting power of a turtle carcass, dropping line readings like lead balloons to thump embarrassed to the proscenium. Chambers is the illegitimate love child in talent and appearance of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Chris O'Donnell, two actors who suck with a dedicated vigour and could still blast Chambers off the screen. Should that infernal trinity ever be assembled under the aegis of one cinematic atrocity, the resulting charisma vortex could rival the seemingly insurmountable curiosity of Kiefer Sutherland being upstaged by two Coreys in The Lost Boys. That Chambers's whinging thesping is so thoroughly drubbed in The Musketeer by the insipid-beyond-all-words Mena Suvari is itself a pretty impressive feat. How does one get upstaged by a pallid slab of clay in a stringy wig?
It seems that D'Artagnan (Chambers), after witnessing his unarmed parents slain by the evil Febre (Tim Roth, reprising his slavering Thade chimpanzee role from Planet of the Apes), grows up wanting to be a musketeer, one of King Louis XIII's loyal protectors. The evil Febre, his leash held loosely by the evil Cardinal Richilieu (Stephen Rea, miscast and knowing it), wants to kill the Queen (Catherine Deneuve, looking miserable and mortified) for reasons I suspect have something to do with him being the villain. Travelling to Paris, D'Artagnan verbally spars with witless quip-spouting musketeers Aramis (Nick Moran), Athos (Jan Gregor Kremp), and Porthos (Steve Speirs)--a trio we know as the best of the king's elite guard if we have any kind of classical education, but whom the film treats as drunken schleps. They disappear without a trace for all of the second act and most of the third.
The Musketeer is a loosely-tied string of incomprehensible vignettes that make sense only because we've been force-fed fetid formula trash for decades. There's a prison break to rescue a person whose importance is neither explained nor expanded upon so that his inevitable Death by Villain is as much of a non-event as every other purportedly momentous event of the film. There's a chase scene meticulously ripped off from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a ladder-fight meticulously ripped off from Once Upon a Time in China, and a dangling bungee fight meticulously ripped off from Time and Tide. The only thing new to The Musketeer's few and far between action sequences is the conspicuous absence of excitement and aptitude.
The Musketeer is updated and dumbed down, an egregious "hip" transmogrification that robs the Alexandre Dumas pere's source material of life, panache, poetry, coherence, a flair for the swashbuckling melodramatic, and a ferocious Gallic patriotism that never fails to tickle in a post-WWII landscape. Every other line is an ill-timed non-sequitur wisecrack; every scene is poorly lit and edited into a visual muddle; and each of the three action set-pieces assembled by "legendary" fight choreographer Xin-Xin Xiong (really just one of Tsui Hark's glorified punching dummy toadies) is anemic. The Musketeer is so bad it might actually qualify as a coming-of-age pain ritual in some Burundian tribes; so lame that if it were a horse it would've been glue and cat food long before now. On the bright side, the wait for the worst film of 2001 is over with a full three months to go. Originally published: September 7, 2001.