Even Tim Roth, whose trademark blend of savagery and insouciance made Planet of the Apes intermittently entertaining, can’t rescue Peter Hyams’s The Musketeer from the dustbin of historical adventure retreads. Hyams tries to give the familiar tale of D’Artagnan (earnestly played by soft-lipped Justin Chambers) a post-Crouching Tiger lease on life by employing Hong Kong martial arts choreographer Xin-Xin Xiong to design the fight scenes. There is much swordplay atop rolling wine barrels and swaying 30-foot ladders. Most of the action transpires in semidarkness, although Hyams is less concerned with pre-electric-light authenticity than with concealing the fact that the duels are fought by Chinese stunt doubles. The result is a disconnection between action and character in what should have been the film’s most exciting scenes.
Dispensing with most of Dumas’s novel, the film invents a backstory in which D’Artagnan’s parents are murdered by Febre (Roth), the psycho-killer right hand of Cardinal Richelieu, the most powerful man in France after King Louis XIII. D’Artagnan journeys to Paris to avenge himself on Febre and to join the king’s Musketeers. Thanks to the machinations of Richelieu, who has plotted to isolate the king from his loyal guard, the Musketeers are in disarray, and it takes all of D’Artagnan’s purity and enthusiasm to rally them to the king’s cause.
East/West fusion aside, The Musketeer is a stale Euro-pudding; its multinational cast applies a variety of accents to hollow-sounding post-synched dialogue. Chambers and Mena Suvari (as D’Artagnan’s feisty main squeeze) seem to have been directed to play their scenes together like a couple of Valley kids on a first date. Roth, who does most of his acting with his teeth (the upper regions of his face obscured by a big-brimmed black hat and matching eye patch) knows how to have a good time in less than desirable circumstances, but his Richard III routine is wasted here. Still, one of the film’s two memorable moments is the sight of Roth scrambling onto his horse as if his body was as weighed down by ill deeds as his soul. The other involves Catherine Deneuve as the tough, portly queen of France, hoisting up her skirts and wading through the sewers of 17th-century Paris, the graciously indulgent expression on her face suggesting that she knows how well this particular effluvium represents The Musketeer in general.