The Three Musketeers
Directed by Stephen Herek. Starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Chris O'Donnell, Tim Curry, Rebecca De Mornay, Gabrielle Anwar, Michael Wincott. (1993)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Nov. 19, 1993
Narratively, this new remake of The Three Musketeers is related to those old Mascot serial remakes of the great classics. It has the main characters and a hint of the idea but it's all go-to-hell fun from there. Richard Lester's 1974 revisionist duo of The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers seemed to finally put an end to the Musketeer genre. Although the films were comedic, he also set them in a world of the dead and the dying. By the bitter end of the second film, Lester had stripped away most heroic pretense and made the Musketeers seem more like insensitive baboons romping through the pain and misery of their time period. Herek's somewhat daring new effort ignores Lester's work, pretty much ignores Alexander Dumas's book (he's not even mentioned in the main print credits for the film) but takes the idea and runs with it. This is neo-romantic heroic revisionism to Lester's more profound historical and political revisionism and Herek's The Three Musketeers is the lowball version. The complex political intrigue of the original is jettisoned and the film is updated for modern sensibilities. It was over 30 years ago that I read the book, so I have no idea which version is more faithful to the novel (though given we are talking about thousands of pages of novel, it is hard not to be faithful to some of it). But I remember its complexity and this is an MTV narrative. The story is simplified into a plot by Cardinal Richelieu against young King Louis (in this film, he doesn't even get a number), which includes Kennedy assassination overtones. Driven by the Don Ameche D'Artagnan performance of O'Donnell (and that's not a compliment), this is a go-for-broke male adventure where women characters are barely romantic decorations. But, and it's a mighty but, Sheen, Sutherland and Platt as those Three Musketeers of legend -- Aramis, Athos and Porthos -- simply are in a splendidly different movie than the story. Add Tim Curry in a deliriously corrupting turn as Richelieu and Wincott as his evil henchman Rochefort and suddenly we're in a perfect Warner Bros. swashbuckler instead of a low-budget serial remake. They are not just good, they're terrific, and much of the film is first rate, especially when they're on the screen. Each of the three leads, especially, gives a larger than life performance; they really manage to capture their characters as both heroes and jerks. This is for kids, mind you, it never transcends into farce and even the sheer joy of watching the three of them is overwhelmed by the mundanity of the story and the stereotyping of the fall-in-love-at-first-sight women characters.