Guy Pearce, James Caviezel, ...
Credit: The Count of Monte Cristo: Jonathan Hession

There’s a thin line between likably old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy, and The Count of Monte Cristo, in which the French and the English both speak in the vague Continental inflections of a ”Wonderful World of Disney” swashbuckler from 1965, never quite settles on either side. It’s still fun, after all these years, to see a movie in which the villian is the guy in the puffiest shirt, and where even a lifetime sentence in the remote island prison of Chateau D’If becomes the occasion for ”Karate Kid” lessons in fencing and philosophy. Yet to describe this latest version of the Alexandre Dumas novel, directed with cardboard proficiency by Kevin Reynolds (”Waterworld”), as a rousing sword-crossed melodrama wouldn’t begin to do justice to what a profoundly, even ponderously square movie it is.

Take, for instance, the big moment when Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel), having escaped his nightmare of incarceration and assumed the made-up identity of the Count of Monte Cristo, shows up at the home of the foppish traitor Fernand (Guy Pearce), the former comrade who framed him and stole his fiancée (Dagmara Dominczyk). No one realizes that the Count is actually Edmond, and with good reason: In the intervening years, he has undergone the radical transformation of…growing a goatee.

Of course, that’s not the only way that he’s changed; he is now on fire with revenge. But the inner mounting flame that emanates from Jim Caviezel doesn’t exactly singe the screen. He looks mad as heck, handing out just deserts as if they were being plucked off a restaurant cart. I realize this isn’t supposed to be ”Dirty Monte,” but there’s a lot of exposition to slog through before the treachery that sets the film in motion enjoys the satisfying kick of justice. The best thing in ”The Count of Monte Cristo” is Guy Pearce’s snot-nosed hauteur. He gives this scoundrel some wounded edges, and frills as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Movie
  • 131 minutes