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The Man in the Iron Mask

Rated PG-13, 132 min. Directed by Randall Wallace. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Gerard Depardieu, Anne Parillaud, Judith Godreche, Hugh Laurie, Peter Sarsgaard.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 13, 1998

This new chronicle of the adventures of the king's musketeers, as directed by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, suffers from a severe case of over-earnestness and star-power overkill. It's agleam with sumptuous scenes of Versailles revelry but with hardly any of Dumas' dank wit and ear for epic tragedy. Wallace, instead, places things somewhere between the bravura silliness of Richard Lester's 1974 The Three Musketeers and an Actors Studio self-help group: There's so much unintentional mugging in this film I feared for my wallet. DiCaprio, as the tyrannical boy-king Louis XIV, is at the heart of the problem. Certainly he has the boy part down pat, and his haughtiness is unquestionable, but there's something about his flat, American tones which leave his portrayal of King Fop lying in the dust. Likewise his Phillipe, the king's twin and the titular man in the mask, whom he plays with a wide-eyed bluster more appropriate to a pre-Titanic Jack Dawson. Clearly he's not the man for the job here (and who is? my vote goes to Crispin Glover, if only to add the much needed -- and intentional -- oddball quotient the film sorely deserves). As for the musketeers themselves, what must have seemed a casting coup of mammoth proportions doesn't play nearly as well onscreen as it does in the mind's eye. Irons is suitably pious as Aramis, who spends his days praying in his room and advising the King in matters of state while simultaneously plotting against him. The same goes for Byrne as the conflicted D'Artagnan, now Captain of the King's musketeer regiments and thus sworn in allegiance to DiCaprio's power-mad teddy boy. Malkovich, however, is coming out of left field as Athos, who is spurred to treason when Louis sends off his son Raoul (Skarsgaard, doing an impeccable Malkovich, Jr. impersonation) to die in order to make time with the boy's lady love, Christine (Godreche). Of course, Malkovich always seems to be playing left of center, but here his clipped, monotone Midwestern accents trip him up, and his paternal stoicism is cartoonish. Depardieu, as the lusty, aging Porthos seems to be the only one having any fun with his role; when not bedding the scullery maids or finishing off yet another flagon of ale, he's grousing about the unfairness of growing old and dreaming of past glories, a grizzled lech with a faltering rapier. The film itself is a jumble of period images that swirl by with little meaning or resonance, a series of ornate parties, treacheries, and rescues. It lacks the inherent impact of Dumas' tale, and its emotional core seems tacked on and unfinished. It's all swash and no buckle.
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