The studio hype on The Musketeer would have you believe that it — hold on, let me grab the press notes — ”weds the classic swordplay and chivalry of Alexandre Dumas’ ”The Three Musketeers” with the gravity-defying dazzle of Hong Kong action choreography.” This is, sadly, bunk. Despite the participation of HK stunt coordinator Xin-Xin Xiong (Tsui Hark’s ”Time and Tide”), it’s only at the very end of ”The Musketeer” — in a climactic swords-and-ladders duel that plays like Xeroxed Jackie Chan — that things get remotely busy.
But what do you expect when you hire a wordsmith like Peter Hyams to oversee a full-on action film? His collaborations with Arnold and Jean-Claude notwithstanding, Hyams is still best known as the writer-director of verbose clankers like ”The Star Chamber” (1983); he also often serves as his own cinematographer. Unfortunately, he appears here to be working without a shred of visual sense. ”Musketeer”’s fight scenes are underlit, overmiked, and appallingly edited, with none of the spacious grace that even routine Asian action flicks get right. Worse, the narrative scenes make less sense.
Still, there are camp pleasures: the concern with which the Malibu Ken of a D’Artagnan (”The Wedding Planner”’s Justin Chambers) says to his horse, ”You rest now,” after it has collapsed in a heap. The spirit with which Jean-Pierre Castaldi, as Planchet, evokes the verbal acuity of Andre the Giant in ”The Princess Bride.” The way the rain in the final battle falls only in a neat line in the foreground. Little things like that.
For the record, such fine actors as Stephen Rea (Richelieu), Catherine Deneuve (the queen of France), and Tim Roth (the evil Count Rugen — excuse me, Febre) are on hand, beacons of specificity in the swashbuckled murk. And when Roth rears back and snarls ”I feel the need to harm someone,” believe me, you know just how he feels.