Dumas for Dummies

All you really need to know about Disney's The Three Musketeers you can learn from the movie's theme song, "All for Love." Like the film, the tune merges big-name performers with half-hearted renditions of lackluster writing. Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting all lend their vocals to the song penned by schlockmeister Adams. It's called selling your name and collecting a check.

In recent years it's become increasingly common for Hollywood to remake successful films, especially those based on classic literature. Rarely, however, has it gone so far as to revisit a story six times. Yet Disney does exactly that with their latest release. It's a tepid rehash of the Alexandre Dumas novel about four swaggering seventeenth-century swordsmen who risk their lives to defend King Louis XIII. If you were hoping Disney had something interesting to add to the legend, or that they'd even begin to do justice to Dumas's work, forget it.

These are the Mickey Musketeers -- a boring band of B-list brat packers posturing pathetically in period plumage, in a transparent attempt to cash in on the dubious marquee value of pseudo-stars like Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen. Not surprisingly, the film makes a strong case for cinema devolution; it is inferior in every respect to the rollicking version Richard Lester directed twenty years ago. Compare the lineups: Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, Christopher Lee, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlton Heston, and Faye Dunaway versus Sutherland, Sheen, Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Rebecca DeMornay, and Gabrielle Anwar. If they were competing football teams, no bookie would even give you odds on the game.

For more damning evidence of the downward-sloping talent curve, look at the progression of actors who have played D'Artagnan over the years -- from Douglas Fairbanks, Don Ameche, Gene Kelly, and Michael York to O'Donnell, the corn-fed kid Al Pacino bullied around in Scent of a Woman. In terms of machismo, comedic flair, or pure screen magnetism, there is not one facet of O'Donnell's portrayal on par with the standard set by his sword-swinging predecessors. He's cute, but he can't act his way out of a paper tunic. The kid delivers his lines as if he were back home in Winnetka, Illinois, playing miniature golf rather than defending a king in seventeenth-century France. A modern midwestern accent hasn't stuck out this sorely since Kevin Costner donned tights to play Robin of Locksley.

And O'Donnell is just the tip of the iceberg. The role of Lady DeWinter passed from Lana Turner to Welch to DeMornay. Given the difference between DeMornay's and O'Donnell's ages, the scene where the bodice-straining actress attempts to seduce the baby-faced leading man, whose chest is as hairless as her own, suggests an alternate title: The Hand that Robs the Cradle.

Director Stephen Herek elicits nary a flash of real emotion from Sutherland as Athos or Sheen as Aramis. They take turns looking sullen, miraculously appear and disappear, and narrowly escape from a variety of tight situations (without the filmmakers providing a clue as to how they did any of it), and try to avoid inflicting serious injury on the stuntmen during scenes requiring swordplay. At least they'll be well-rested for their next films. Only Platt, who gets all the film's best lines as the hard-drinking, hard-loving, hard-fighting rogue Porthos, and Curry, who is entertaining (if not entirely convincing) as a sporadically wicked Cardinal Richelieu, redeem themselves. And Curry still can't completely erase the memory of his Rocky Horror appearance -- you suspect that if someone peeked under the man of cloth's robe they'd find Dr. Frank N. Furter's pumps.

Critters and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure represent the previous high water mark of director Herek's career. These Musketeers are so dumbed-down you half expect the heroes of the latter film to wander on-screen and announce that the whole thing has been a joke. Except that even Bill and Ted have more sense than to appear in something this unimaginative and tedious. Between Herek and screenwriter David Loughery (Passenger 57, Star Trek V), no swashbuckling cliche remains sheathed. There are scenes that borrow from Tony Richardson's Tom Jones, others that steal from Robin Hood, and still others that cannibalize the earlier Musketeers. Imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, but inclusion in this milquetoast of a film proves it can be an insult as well.

The Three Musketeers is replete with latent homosexual undertones -- and not-so-latent contempt for women. Aside from the standard "all for one, one for all" nonsense, these musketeers admire each other's sabers and pledge their undying love to each other (D'Artagnan to Athos: "I'll never forget you"). For those who thought Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid were sexist, wait until you view this film's "manly art of wenching" scenes. Platt and Sheen take turns teaching O'Donnell a thing or two about equality by seducing helpless damsels with sloppy kisses and sentimental poetry. Forget nudity and gore -- this is the crap you should be shielding your kids from. You expect it from Andrew Dice Clay, but Disney? And The Three Musketeers opens with a scene in which Cardinal Richelieu's political prisoners, housed in an underground cave, are flogged, tortured, and run through with swords. "One less mouth to feed," purrs the sadistic Cardinal contentedly. Such wholesome family entertainment!

Then again, it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Disney has been getting away with this kind of hypocrisy forever. Take Cool Runnings, for example, their movie about the Jamaican bobsled team's unprecedented appearance in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Strip away the Olympic context and the reggae soundtrack, and it all boils down to a story about one white massuh and his four obedient boys. Don't you just love those irrepressible Negroes when they get scared and their eyes bulge? Yeah, boss. And who cares if elephantine John Candy as a one-time Olympic athlete holds about as much water as one of Joe Gersten's alibis? This is Disney.

Maybe after The Three Musketeers save the king and rescue France they can take on a real challenge: freeing America from the illusion that the house that Walt built has become something more than just another cynical, money-grubbing movie studio.

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