After all its TV commercial posturing about "re-envisioning" a classic as a post-Hong Kong actioner, "The Musketeer" betrays the truth of its utter lack of real ambition in the casting of a wooden, charmlessly handsome, totally generic Hollywood pretty boy in the title role.
His name is Justin Chambers (Jennifer Lopez's irritating Italian suitor in "The Wedding Planner"), and he looks and acts like he got the part only because Chris O'Donnell -- the industry's preferred choice for glinty-eyed, mannequin-souled heroes -- already played D'Artagnan in Disney's weightless 1993 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers."
Out to avenge the murder of his father some 14 years before, this D'Artagnan is "all for one" without the "one for all." Ostensibly, he ventures to Paris to join King Louis XIII's elite guard, only to find them disbanded and in disarray following a power shift that favored troops loyal to the power-mad Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea).
Conveniently, Richelieu's most evil enforcer (played with delicious aplomb by baddie extraordinare Tim Roth) happens to be the man D'Artagnan has come to kill, and many extravagant sword fights ensue.
Said swordplay is Universal Studio's sole excuse for this otherwise unmotivated and underwhelming remake (co-financed by the once-respectable Miramax). Choreographed by Xin-Xin Xiong, the hyper-kinetic dodge-and-parry is a mixture of predictable genre standards (a fight atop a horse-drawn coach ends with a bad guy getting smacked by a tree branch) and recycled wire-work stunts from his superior Chinese flicks like "Once Upon A Time In China" (ladder fu) and this year's "Time and Tide" (rappelling-rope fu).
It's flashy to be sure, but if the picture has any good stunts to speak of, they're lost to appallingly choppy editing that never stays on one image long enough to even see a punch or a blade connect with its target.
Director Peter Hyams (responsible for such cinematic crimes as "End of Days" and "Timecop") hardly bothers with anything as mundane as plot, other than tossing in a damsel to rescue (Mena Suvari) and making vague references to France's political instability through D'Artagnan's assignment to escort the queen (Catherine Deneuve) to a secret meeting with an English ambassador. What little plot there is has been crippled by enormous and flagrant gaffes -- like the scene in which Suvari is shot in the chest at almost point-blank range but survives without a scratch and without explanation.
How Hyams got such talented players as Deneuve, Rea and Roth to sign on for this dud (and effortlessly outshine the other players in the process) is a mystery -- although Roth does get all the best dialogue. "I feel the need to harm someone!" he seethes luridly through clenched teeth.
Everyone else speaks entirely in clichés, and Chambers and Suvari deliver their romantic lines as if they're so consumed with courtly pronunciation that they don't even notice each other in the room.
Three other characters that don't get much notice are Dumas' original three Musketeers -- Aramis, Porthos and Athos -- who are little more than peripheral players here, despite the fact that D'Artagnan is traditionally the least experienced swordsman.
But then, the source material is of little relevance to "The Musketeer" except as a ready-made framework on which to hang overwrought action that isn't all that exciting to begin with. There is not one aspect of this movie -- performances, plot, score, editing, even fights -- that hasn't been done infinitely better in other "Musketeer" adaptations.