Oh boy, here they come.
The first in what is sure to be a long line of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” knockoffs, Peter Hyams’ “The Musketeer” fails miserably in attempting to capture any of the genre-bending oomph that Ang Lee’s opus so eloquently put forth. Comparisons to “Tiger” are perhaps a bit unfair, though; “The Musketeer” isn’t so much a bold reinvention as it is a transparent, indolent piece of claptrap looking to ride the coattails of a masterpiece. Quite simply, this is Miramax’s attempt to cash in on the forthcoming Asian invasion as cheaply and quickly as possible.
Calvin Klein underwear model-turned actor Justin Chambers (“The Wedding Planner”) plays D’Artagnan, the boy who would become the fourth Musketeer all in the name of avenging his father’s death. Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs”) leads a largely overqualified and wasted supporting cast as Febre, the object of D’Artagnan’s ire. The young swashbuckler travels to Paris in search of his enemy, only to find the city in the grips of religious and political upheaval. To make matters worse, Febre kidnaps the Queen and D’Artagnan’s obligatory love interest (a terribly miscast Mena Suvari, “American Pie”) in an attempt to gain power and lure his foe to his death. The film nearly squanders the rest of its running time on this subplot, but not before a final face-off between D’Artagnan and Febre.
The fundamental problem of “The Musketeer” is that it was conceptualized as an action movie first and a costume drama second. That said, it’s rather puzzling that the film is so light on action sequences. In a script replete with juvenile camaraderie and laughable history babble, famed fight choreographer Xin Xin Xiong (“Once Upon a Time in China”) barely gets a chance to flex his muscles. When he does, though, the results are extraordinary, especially the climax atop a series of ladders (a scene that at times recalls the treetop fight of “Crouching Tiger” a little too much).
But even the film’s exceptional stunts are marred by director Hyams (“End of Days”). He aspires to “Barry Lyndon” style verisimilitude with his use of mostly natural lighting, but Stanley Kubrick never had any Hong Kong action scenes to film in his historical epic. Hyams needn’t feel too guilty, however. From the unintentionally funny opening credits, to the amateurish editing, to the intrusive musical score that sounds like it was taken straight from the Lifetime Channel afternoon movie, the problems of “The Musketeer” go far beyond its lack of direction.
As Hollywood has proven in the past, cashing in on trends can be quite infectious. It happened in 1994 with “Pulp Fiction”, 1996 with “Scream”, and in 1999 with “The Matrix”. But with “The Musketeer”, the rush to rip off “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” seems to be taking a different direction with its use of historical and/or literary settings. So don’t be surprised when Merchant-Ivory releases its re-imagining of the Louisa May Alcott classic “Little Women”, complete with a wire-fight showdown between Meg and Jo.