Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Overlooked Movies: The Musketeer

That's right, The Musketeer.  Singular.  The guide that pops up on my TV screen refers to the movie as a "loose adaptation" of Dumas' famous novel.  That sounds about right.  The guide also tells me that the movie is sitting on about 11% "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.  That sounds about right, too. 

But here's the thing: As much as I decry unnecessary remakes, I'll watch any movie that's based on The Three Musketeers because I love the story and have ever since I saw the Gene Kelly version when I was a kid.  I took a look at some of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.  Wow.  Some of those people despised this movie.  They loathed it.  You might not be surprised, however, to hear that I got a big kick out of it. 

See, what this is, is a Hong Kong version of The Three Musketeers, with action scenes designed by Xin-Xin Xiong, a fairly big name in that field.  So let's get this straight right from the start: The movie's about the action scenes.  There's no acting required, and the stars live up to that idea (with one exception, which I'll get to).  Catherine Deneuve (the queen) is beautiful, and Mena Suvari (the sweet confidant) isn't bad.  Justin Chambers (D'Artagnan) is dashing and handsome.  Stephen Rea, as Cardinal Richelieu, hardly bothers.  Everybody pronounces D'Artagnan's name differently.  The plot doesn't make any sense.  Aramis, Pothos, and Athos are just afterthoughts (Athos hardly appears at all).  But the action scenes make up for all of that.  And so does Tim Roth.

You might recall that Tim Roth was the villainous villain in Rob Roy, which I talked about last week.  He was so villainous that I didn't think anyone could top him, and maybe that's true.  However, he can top himself.  He plays Febre, whose motiveless malignity is a wonder to behold.  If there's such a thing as overplaying by underplaying, Roth has mastered that ability, and he shows it here with magnificent restraint and all the best lines in the movie, but it's not so much the lines as the delivery.  Samples:

D'Artagnan: Do not harm her!

Febre the Man in Black: But, I feel the need to harm someone.
The Queen: I will die before I help you.

Febre the Man in Black: Well, you wouldn't be the first.
The Queen: Is there no mercy in your heart?

Febre: No mercy. No heart.

There are a good many more.  The others have some good lines, too, but Roth is far and away the best at this kind of thing.

Now about those action scenes.  I'll just mention a couple.  One of them is the stagecoach chase that you've seen in a hundred old westerns, but never quite like this.  There are a few dozen men (who's counting?) pursuing the coach, and D'Artagnan defeats every single one of them with any number of amazing stunts, including one in which he stands on the saddle of one horse and jumps to the saddle of another and lands standing on it.  And just for fun, the classic stunt of falling off the front of the coach, hitting the ground between the running horses, and then pulling up on the rear of the coach is here, too.  It's a fine scene.

The finale comes after D'Artagnan climbs a rope up the side of a castle tower, sword fighting with men who drop down on their own ropes to tangle with him.  They don't stand a chance, of course.  When he gets inside the tower, he finds the queen and Mena Suvari.  And of course, Febre.  The big finale begins, and it's right out of some Jackie Chan movie I saw once.  They fight their way into a big warehouse full of wine barrels and ladders.  Many ladders.  The climax of the battle comes on these ladders, and you have to see it to disbelieve it.  Great stuff.  Guess who wins.

BONUS:  This is the only musketeers movie ever to have jokes about crocodiles in the sewers.  Really.  It was great.  Sometimes I think I'm the sole target audience for a movie.  This might be one of those times.

So once again we have a movie that nobody likes but me.  Or maybe you'll get a kick out of it if you approach it in the right spirit.  Buckle on your swash and give it a try.


Unknown said...

Okay--you sold me. I'll look for it at Half-Price Books.

Jerry House said...

Crocodiles in the sewera? I'm there, baby!

Jeff Meyerson said...

And here I was sure you were going to say Jackie Chan played D'Artagnan.

Too bad.

James Reasoner said...

I wanted to watch this one but never got around to it. Now I may have to. Any movie that sounds like Yakima Canutt would have enjoyed it is okay by me.

Unknown said...

They definitely lifted Canutt's stagecoach stunt.

MimiandMona said...

Curiosity Peaked...now i'm on a hunt. Thanks for sharing this one.

Mel Odom said...

Despite the weak plot, I LOVED this movie for the action sequences and the set designs. I can always be five years old and just overlook jarring reality!

Unknown said...

Me, too, Mel.