The last time Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan, collectively known as The Musketeers, graced the silver screen, it was in 1998's "The Man in the Iron Mask". With "The Musketeer", the central characters of Alexandre Dumas' classic literary trilogy ("The Three Musketeers", "Twenty Years After", and "Le Vicomte de Bragelonne") return to movie theaters once again, only this time with some Hong Kong-style martial arts choreography thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, aside from an unorthodox twist on the swashbuckling heroics of the titular character, there is little else in "The Musketeer" to garner a recommendation.
The story begins in 17th century France, which is in a state of political turmoil, with the country on the verge of war with both England and Spain. The ambitious Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea of "The Crying Game") uses the opportunity to solidify his own power while undermining that of the crown, a situation that both King Louis XIII (Daniel Mesguich) and Queen (French screen icon Catherine Deneuve, seen recently in "Dancer in the Dark") are oblivious to. As a result of Richelieu's underhanded maneuvers, the King's own loyal Musketeers have been put on suspension and have been replaced by the Cardinal's own private army. Enter young D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers, seen recently in "The Wedding Planner"), who has spent the last fourteen years training to be a Musketeer under the tutelage of family friend Planchet (Jean-Pierre Castaldi), after his father and mother were murdered by the ruthless Febre (Tim Roth of "Planet of the Apes"), who has now become Richelieu's right-hand man. Though D'Artagnan is at first rejected by the demoralized remnants of the once-proud Musketeers, his physics-defying fighting style quickly inspires Athos (Jan Gregor Kremp), Porthos (Steven Spiers of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace"), and Aramis (Jason Flemyng of "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels") to take up arms and defend France from the Cardinal's evil designs. And if that were not enough, the would-be Musketeer also captures the heart of a comely chambermaid named Francesca (Mena Suvari of "American Pie"), who also happens to have the ear of the Queen.
To inject martial arts sensibility into the mythos of the Musketeers, director Peter Hyams ("End of Days") hired Hong Kong action choreographer Xin-Xin Xiong, whose past credits include Tsui Hark's "Time and Tide" and "Double Team". Thus, instead of the usual derring-do that you would associate with a Musketeer film, D'Artagnan does backflips, spin-kicks, makes good use of nearby props, and even balances himself on rolling barrels while dispatching the bad guys. While these action sequences certainly seem innovative, they essentially retread similar gravity-defying fight sequences seen in some of Jackie Chan's older films, as well as the "Once Upon a Time in China" franchise. This is most apparent with the film's final fight sequence where Chambers and Roth (or at least their stunt doubles) leap between ladders in a giant warehouse, a scene that will certainly trigger a sense of déja vu for Hong Kong film aficionados. Another issue lies in Hyams' cinematography. Similar to how Brett Ratner shot "Rush Hour" and "Rush Hour 2", the camera is placed too closely to the action, making much of the action a blur. In addition, the action sequences are heavily edited and the use of stunt performers is blatantly obvious (it comes in handy when your characters wear big hats), making the action sequences even less impressive.
Outside of the passable martial arts action, the film offers little else to reel audiences in. The script offers little more than middling drama and intrigue, and there is little surprise in how things will turn out. Like "A Knight's Tale", scribe Gene Quintano (who wrote two of the "Police Academy" movies) tries to inject some modern-day sensibility into the proceedings-- unfortunately, other than a handful of decent one-liners (most of which go to Flemyng), a lot of the gags end up misfiring. Similarly, the acting leaves much to be desired, with very few decent performances to be found, perhaps with the exception of Deneuve and Roth.
Peter Hyams has had a hit-and-miss career in Hollywood over the past three decades-- for every great film that he has directed, such as "Outland", "2010: The Year We Make Contact", or "Running Scared", he has made three clunkers, such as "The Relic", "Timecop", "Sudden Death", and more recently, "End of Days". Unfortunately, "The Musketeer" belongs in the latter group, as what would have been an otherwise fascinating experiment in genre-bending ends up being wasted by a so-so script, jerky editing, and Hyam's own lackluster cinematography. Outside of die-hard martial arts fans or the curious, it is doubtful that audiences will muster the effort for "The Musketeer".