The Musketeer (PG)

Review by Jack Foley

CROUCHING Tiger combines with The Matrix and the classic swashbucklers of old for The Musketeer, an ill-advised rendition of Alexandre Dumas' classic adventure which really begs the question, why?

Set in 17th Century France, director Peter Hyams' movie attempts to put a modern spin on the tale of The Three Musketeers by concentrating almost solely on the escapades of misfit D'Artagnan and relegating Porthos, Aramis and Athos to the background as drunken has-beens who hark back to the good old days of 'one for all and all for one' without really doing much about it.

Pitted against our intrepid loner are the usual suspects - Stephen Rea's embarrassing Cardinal Richelieu and his church cohorts - as well as Tim Roth's detestable arch-villain, Febre, who was responsible for the murder of D'Artagnan's mother and father years earlier.

Waiting quietly in the corner, meanwhile, is Mena Suvari's feisty chamber maid, a loyal subject of Catherine Deneuve's Queen of France, and eventual love interest for the clumsy hero.

So far, so routine. But The Musketeer's biggest selling point - and the hook with which the makers were probably hoping to capture audiences - is the presence of stunt co-ordinator Xin Xin Xiong, veteran of the aforementioned Matrix and Crouching Tiger, to add a little Hong Kong fight choreography to the swashbuckling sequences.

Sadly, the trick backfires, spectacularly, with most of the fight sequences (or at least those that you can see) coming across as pale imitations of other, far better, movies which sit uncomfortably within the confines of the genre.

Early on, we're enticed with a tavern brawl, which features D'Artagnan swashing some buckle with five thugs while balancing on beer barrels or clinging to the ceiling (a la Spiderman), while later on we're expected to keep a straight face as he goads a couple of lippy guards with a scene lifted straight out of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (regarding insults to a horse).

Worse still, the movie's eagerly anticipated showdown (and I say eagerly anticipated because, by the time it arrives, you'll be itching to leave) between Febre and D'Artagnan is a hopelessly over the top affair which features the two protagonists exchanging swordplay while clambering between ladders (much like the tree-top scene which climaxes Ang Lee's epic). None of it looks, or feels, real or exciting.

And it is Hyams who must shoulder a lot of the blame - for while the director has been responsible for some minor classics such as Capricorn One and The Presidio, he is also responsible for bringing us such Jean Claude Van Damme duds as Timecop and Sudden Death.

The Musketeer falls into the latter category and merely has one yearning for the good old days of Reed and Chamberlain. For when he is not littering proceedings with simulated fight sequences, Hyams is boring viewers with some truly banal dialogue and yawn-inducing patriotism which even the performers cannot be bothered to get excited about.

Rea, in particular, looks embarrassed to be there, while Justin Chambers, as D'Artagnan, is as wooden and bland a hero as you are likely to see all year. In fact, most of the performers look hopelessly miscast, from Deneuve's uninspired Queen to Suvari's pathetic beauty, Nick ('Lock, Stock') Moran's unconvincing Aramis and, finally, former Eastenders star Bill Treacher's leacherous Bonacieux.

Only Roth emerges with any credit, turning in a deliciously charismatic villain who appears to be poking fun at all around him (whether it be with a cutting remark or a stab of his sword).

Given that this is a musketeer movie, however, it borders on the criminal to be cheering on the villain half the time; which is exactly what you will be doing. You'd be a dumb-ass to give this slice of Dumas any time at all.