Swords, cleavage and cannon balls! Could it be that The Three Musketeers, the latest of numerous films adapted from Alexandre Dumas's 17th-century-set adventure novel, can scavenge whatever remains of box-office booty the fading Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has left in its wake?
That would seem to be the case with director Paul W.S. Anderson's move to the classics after establishing himself as a specialist in horror and game adaptation ( Resident Evil: Afterlife, Mortal Kombat).
Not unexpectedly, his movie opens with a board-game view of Europe before we descend into the action. This 3-D film, which avoids explicit violence or sexuality, seems aimed for a juvenile male audience who may enjoy ogling the steampunk, anachronistic weapons, or Milla Jovovich's occasional appearance in a saucy corset.
Otherwise, the main attraction is the film's lavish-looking production values, including CGI-painted backdrops, pretty European castles and sparkly silk costumes, which clothe the unknown or modestly familiar actors.
The three musketeers of the title are introduced in mid-caper, as they attempt to break into Leonardo da Vinci's booby-trapped vault to steal his already-antique plans for a flying hot-air warship. The three include the moody leader, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), the cerebral former priest Aramis (Luke Evans) and the jocular strongman Porthos (Ray Stevenson). Helping them out is sexy trickster Milady de Winter (Jovovich), who, as soon as the mission is accomplished, takes off with the plans.
From there on, the script sticks fairly closely to the Dumas novel, beginning with young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) departing from his rural home on the family nag. Shortly after reaching Paris, the hot-tempered youth manages to quarrel and schedule duels with all three of the famed musketeers. Instead, he joins them in the movie's first big fight against their rivals, Cardinal Richelieu's guard, led by the eye-patch-wearing captain Rochefort (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen).
Richelieu is played by Christoph Waltz ( Inglourious Basterds) as another oily villain. He seeks to eliminate the musketeers, the better to control the effete young King Louis (Freddie Fox). He's aided in his plan by the treacherous Milady and an English fop, the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom, talking through his nose). Richelieu arranges to steal the Queen's necklace to incite the jealous Louis to go to war with England. That threat sends D'Artagnan and his new friends across the British Channel to steal the jewellery back.
All the borderline pantomime acting and wigged buffoonery is deliberate and silly, but The Three Musketeers remains charmless, a romp brought down by its lead-footed script. Co-written by Alex Litvak ( Predators) and Andrew Davies ( Pride and Prejudice), the dialogue wavers between the unamusingly anachronistic ("Lovely outfit. Very retro") and a painful attempt at courtly banter.
It doesn't help that Lerner never seems anything other than a bland, suburban-American teen or that his love interest, the Queen's maid Constance (Gabriella Wilde), seems wooden even before she gets tied to the prow of a ship.
The trio of journeyman British actors who play the musketeers are a brusque, reasonably appealing lot, though they barely get enough screen time to know them. As the film's conclusion makes clear, that oversight is intended to be redressed in a sequel. No, thanks. In this case, "One for all" will do.
The Three Musketeers
- Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
- Written by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies
- Starring Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich and Christoph Waltz
- Classification: PG