The Count of Monte Cristo

There have been a lot of movies carved out of Alexandre Dumas' epic adventure novel set in the Napoleonic era. But this is surely the first in which the hero, Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel), talks street ("You don't get out much, do ya?") and the villain, Fernand (Guy Pearce), tells his disloyal wife she's "a real piece of work."

Welcome to the world Titanic made, where any historical event older than a decade needs to be updated for the youth audience. That said, the new Count moves with the smooth, plastic efficiency of a TV miniseries. Inspiration and originality may be in short supply, but the movie gets the job done. Director Kevin Reynolds, with two Kevin Costner megastinkers on his discredit sheet — we're talking Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves — keeps the action percolating, and the actors play their roles as if there was more than a fat paycheck at stake.

Caviezel, who wandered around in a daze staring at Jennifer Lopez in Angel Eyes, has a livelier time of it as Edmond, the naive young sailor who sits falsely imprisoned in the rat-infested Chateau D'If for thirteen years after his friend Fernand (campily snarled by Memento's Pearce) frames him as a traitor to steal his fiancee, the lovely Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). Jay Wolpert's screenplay is pure connect-the-dots, but the sheer narrative drive of the Dumas tale is undeniable. Edmond stages a daring escape with the help of a cellmate priest, enjoyably hammed by Richard Harris, and takes his role as the noble avenger — the Count of Monte Cristo. If you don't get out much, you'll find it a real piece of work.

From The Archives Issue 889: February 14, 2002