If you're suffering from end-of-the-summer blues and looking for some action, some adventure and a little romance, you could do far worse than Peter Hyams' "The Musketeer." A re-imagining of the Alexander Dumas tale that features D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers) as our trusty hero, this fearless flick delivers a rip-snorting good time -- with a twist. Hyams ("End of Days," "The Relic") employed Hong Kong action choreographer Xinxin Xiong (better known to genre buffs as Hung Yan-yan, often a stunt double for Jet Li) to stage the film's awesome fight scenes.
"You have an interesting fighting style. Where did you acquire it?" a potential combatant asks our hero.
"Here and there," D'Artagnan replies.
"There, and not here," the antagonist wryly observes.
It's likewise obvious that with this movie, Hollywood is truly testing the waters to ascertain if the Hong Kong style will cross over into the U.S. mainstream. That style -- which depends on dance-like choreography, split-second timing, impossible aerial feats, constantly moving bodies and cameras, and rapid-fire editing -- encompasses more than Jackie Chan's comic riffs or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's" poetic lyricism. Here, it's adventurous daring, a spirit not unlike the thrill of being a swashbuckling musketeer.
When a lush court banquet is disrupted by an angry mob, D'Artagnan and his fellow musketeers swash, twirl and leap, courtesy of invisible wirework and talented stunt doubles and henchmen. Cameras and editing follow suit. ("They're going too fast," a small child in a test audience murmured to his dad.) Later, in a memorable and captivating coach scene, D'Artagnan takes on a dozen horsemen to protect the queen. As the coach careens furiously, our hero leaps, scrambles, and thrusts his way to victory -- over, under, around and through the moving carriage and galloping horsemen. ("Jet Li!" enthused knowing teens in the audience.) As the coach enters a forest, the battle continues, the fighters now navigating branches and limbs.
Also not to be missed is the final confrontation on ladders between D'Artagnan and his nefarious nemesis, Febre (Tim Roth). Audiences unused to the Hong Kong style will be amazed at what wonders talented actioneers and cameramen can produce on the screen.
And the story? It's basically a clean-cut tale of one musketeer's sworn loyalty to the throne in troubled 17th-century France. Clearly drawn lines of good and evil are balanced by a contemporary sensibility. Plenty of double entendres and humorous moments move things along during lulls in the action. The color schemes, costumes, lighting and sets are richly textured, and David Arnold's score is epic. Stephen Rea (as the manipulative Richelieu) and Catherine Deneuve (the intelligent queen) are plums in the pudding. If one can look past Justin Chambers' changing accent, he has a passing resemblance to a kinder and gentler Johnny Depp, and brings a charming, youthful brashness to the role of a talented-but-challenged musketeer. His relationship with Francesca (Mena Suvari) provides the innocent romance. As the sneering man in black, Roth outdoes his villainous role of Archibald Cunningham in "Rob Roy."
Numerous stabbings. One body on fire. A near molestation. A temporarily endangered horse and child. And of course, they all lived happily ever after.
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