The expected comparison here is "Young Guns," of course. And it's no small temptation to dismiss this umpteenth remake of "The Three Musketeers" as merely "Young Swords."
For all its colorful costuming and razzle-dazzle stunt work, this "Musketeers" is really more like a Saturday morning serial a la "Raiders of the Lost Ark" than it is like the Alexandre Dumas novel, with significant story alterations, not to mention a plethora of smart-aleck one-liners and contemporary comic asides.
For all that, however, the film also manages to be a fair amount of fun in its own way. And maybe that's the point. Perhaps we should just take this MTV-generation version on its own terms and enjoy some comic action that doesn't require automatic weapons.
The one element that results in a change for the better is D'Artagnan's age, which is much more appropriate here than with the many other filmed versions of "Musketeers," where the D'Artagnans played by Gene Kelly, Michael York and others were in their 30s. Here it's 23-year-old Chris O'Donnell ("Scent of a Woman"), and his wide-eyed freshness works quite well.
The title trio consists of the romantic, poetry-spouting Aramis (Charlie Sheen); the brooding, guilt-ridden Athos (Kiefer Sutherland); and the wisecracking, fun-loving womanizer Porthos (Oliver Platt), three of the king's protective guard.
But there is trouble in Paris. Even as cocky country lad D'Artagnan heads for the big city to join the musketeers, the wicked Cardinal Richelieu (Tim Curry) is disbanding the group, working out his evil plan to rule France. To do so, he attempts to recruit Queen Anne (Gabrielle Anwar), for whom he has lustful eyes, and he does recruit Milady De Winter (Rebecca De Mornay), a first-rank black widow with an agenda of her own.
The cast is effective, especially Platt, who virtually steals the show with his hilarious offhand wit; Curry, who is over the top and amusingly nasty, reminiscent in his own way of Alan Rickman's turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"; and De Mornay, who seems to be doing a more lucid spin on her "Hand That Rocks the Cradle" character.
The swashbuckling and other action sequences are well handled and sometimes amusing. The sets, costumes and technical aspects are all quite good. And director Stephen Herek ("The Mighty Ducks") moves everything along briskly, so that the overall effect is fast and entertaining.
So, the obvious question when it's all over is, why does it all feel so hollow? Most likely it's the screenplay by David Loughery ("The Good Son," "Passenger 57"), which doesn't so much develop the characters as give them each a few big moments that lead into more action. That's OK on a superficial level but it all certainly pales in comparison to past efforts, especially Richard Lester's hilarious, exciting and touching 1974 version.
Still, again if you take all this on its own contemporary terms, you will likely have an enjoyable ride.
Releasing "The Three Musketeers" under the Walt Disney Pictures banner may be misleading for parents, however, as it's a bit much for very young children. The PG rating is for a goodly amount of violence, albeit mostly bloodless, and an inordinate amount of camera time spent probing De Mornay's overflowing bodice. There are also a couple of profanities.