Young, dangerous, hot-blooded and hip – just the come-ons that might entice you to bite for yet another movie go at that old war horse The Three Musketeers. Well, cool down. This is the safe and sorry Disney version, suitable for anyone under 10 or gullible to the point of idiocy. At least Disney cast the movie young. Douglas Fairbanks, Don Ameche, Gene Kelly and Michael York were all in their 30s when they played D’Artagnan in the four previous Hollywood incarnations of the 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas. That’s a tad old-fartish to hack it as a cocky 17th-century Gascon farm boy who leaves home to become a musketeer in the service of King Louis XIII.
This Mickey Mouse take on the book stars baby-faced Chris O’Donnell, Al Pacino’s preppy gofer inScent of a Woman,as D’Artagnan. O’Donnell is 23 and looks five years younger. Actually, he looks damned silly in his plumed hat and Nicole Kidman hairstyle. And his Midwestern accent – O’Donnell is from Winnetka, Ill. – hardly evokes a Gallic flavor.
In a Disney cartoon context, these distractions would be no big whoop. O’Donnell’s D’Artagnan could play Dopey, with the three musketeers – Charlie Sheen’s Aramis, Kiefer Sutherland’s Athos and Oliver Platt’s Porthos – passing for Sleepy, Grumpy and Happy. That’s three dwarfs shy of a full house, but there’s still Gabrielle Anwar’s good Queen Anne standing in for Snow White and Rebecca De Mornay’s malicious Milady and Tim Curry’s catty Cardinal Richelieu vying for the title of Evil Queen to complete the picture.
The boys twitch their butts, twirl in John Mollo’s costumes, stare roguishly into Dean Semler’s camera and lock swords with stuntmen hired to make them look good. They turn a $30 million movie into a fashion layout. The clodhopping footwork must have been exhausting, because the acting is nonexistent.
Screenwriter David Loughery(Star Trek V)doesn’t help; he removes Dumas’ dark twists and retreats into formula. Stephen Herek directs accordingly, as you would expect from the auteur ofThe Mighty Ducks.On colorful locations in Austria and England, Herek stages endless chases and duels to distract audiences from the hollow ring of the plot. But he has no gift for charging action with humor the way director Richard Lester did in the definitive 1974 film. It’s all just clanging swords as D’Artagnan joins Athos, Aramis and Porthos in battling the forces of the one-eyed Count De Rochefort (gravel-voiced Michael Wincott). The count is in league with Richelieu to oust Louis, who appears to be prepubescent as played by Hugh O’Conor (the Daniel Day-Lewis character as a boy inMy Left Foot).Maybe this youth kick is getting out of hand; you half expect the Olsen twins from TV’sFull Houseto show up as ladies-in-waiting.
Just don’t expect any signs of life from the musketeers. Sheen strikes attitudes, Platt plays the fool, and Sutherland – ordinarily a fine actor – merely mopes. The focus is on O’Donnell, who captures D’Artagnans sweetness if little else. He lacks the athletic grace of Fairbanks and Kelly, the comic timing of Ameche and the vocal swagger of York. Though he’s half-naked in his pec-flexing bedroom scene with Milady (is De Mornay warming up forThe Hand That Robs the Cradle?),he does nothing to disgrace the memory of Uncle Walt. There’s also no fire in his wooing of the Lady Constance (Julie Delpy), though Delpy has the beauty and the wit to inspire it.
To be fair, the folks at Disney don’t have a flair for bodice ripping, either. It’s probably the height of daring that they allow the randy cardinal to sneak up on the queen in her bath. (In the 1948 film, Vincent Price’s Richelieu was changed to a secular character to avoid controversy.) But don’t let the bragging about the “manly art of wenching” fool you. These mouseketeers are PG to the bone.
Many of the book’s duplicitous characters are goodied up. Curry’s Richelieu is too funny to hate; Anwar’s queen isn’t adulterous; and Milady has her reasons for turning bad: She had once been married to Athos, who falsely accused her of treachery. Just before her death she tells Athos, “I’ve become the nightmare you once thought me to be.” Then she forgives the jerk. All this nonsense would be news to Dumas, whose grave is surely spinning as his musketeers – sucked dry of high drama and low wit – go kicking and screaming into the wonderful world of Disney.