The Disney/Touchstone retelling of Alexandré Dumas' adventure classic has all the earmarks of a grand to-do, including attractive stars, lavish costumes and gorgeous vistas. Yet it still lacks a certain zip, often coming off like a well-budgeted "Wonderful World of Disney" episode designed to promote the corporation's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. It's just not special, for want of a better term.
Jim Caviezel assumes the lead role of Edmond Dantes, a sailor who is framed for treason and sent to rot in a hellhouse prison. His will to live is renewed via his friendship with a somewhat puckish fellow convict (Richard Harris, doing the Richard Harris thing of acting dotty but noble while wearing a white beard). A dramatic escape and a quickly acquired fortune later, Dantes passes into the upper class under the guise of the Count of Monte Cristo. It's the perfect pose by which to enact his revenge against the man who set him up: Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), a former buddy who has parlayed his treachery into a life of foppish luxury and stolen Dantes' love, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk).
It's probably simple-minded to suggest that director Kevin Reynolds saw this story of two alleged best friends, one of whom sells the other down the road, as a metaphoric parallel to the public backstabbing he took from his pal Kevin Costner over the formers' direction of "Waterworld" -- but let's suggest it anyway. And let's pin the so-so script on writer Jay Wolpert's inexperience. (He's better known as a producer of TV quiz shows like "Match Game.") Though Wolpert's tone is mostly respectful, he can't resist a few dumb dips into modern colloquial humor, and his condensation of Dumas' sprawling narrative into just over two hours' worth of script is messy and imbalanced.
The actors approach their roles with a commendable sobriety that's still open to glimmers of fun. One could expect more, however, from Caviezel's Dantes (a part played over the years by Robert Donat, Louis Jourdan, Richard Chamberlain and Gérard Depardieu), who emerges as a bit of a naif. This is supposed to be the story of a driven man's undying thirst for retribution, yet there's no such gravity to the tale, no black heart at its center that wins our morbid fascination. Caviezel, though glamorous, falls short of true danger.
Now all we have to do is figure out why the announcements of the "Count's" coming-out party look like the invitations to a tacky Long Island bar mitzvah. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?