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Review: ‘Three Musketeers’ Gives Swashbuckling a Bad Name

Loud, dopey, effects-heavy adaptation crushes the joy and the excitement of one of the all-time great adventure tales

The creators of the umpteenth new adaptation of “The Three Musketeers” decided that the classic novel really needed a giant blimp battle, high-tech booby traps, bird droppings, “Matrix”-esque slo-mo fight scenes, and scads of computer-generated French soldiers.

We should, perhaps, admire their restraint at not throwing in a rapping grandma and a wise-cracking chimp, but it’s hard to give any credit to a movie that’s this utterly pointless, humorless, charmless and needless.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be wishing for the death of D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) at the hands of the evil Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) during their climactic rooftop battle. But then, I’m also pretty sure that I wasn’t supposed to be wishing that I were instead watching “Hudson Hawk,” a movie that seems downright restrained and narratively focused next to this one.

The basic “Musketeers” story elements are in place: Country hick D’Artagnan comes to Paris to fight alongside Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans), who have seen better days — the trio is beholden to young, stupid King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), but the real power in France is the devious Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), who has plans to plunge the nation into a war with England so that he may seize the throne.

But in the same way that Robert Zemeckis decided that “A Christmas Carol” was lacking a carriage chase with a teeny-tiny Scrooge, or that the makers of last year’s “Gulliver’s Travels” realized that the Jonathan Swift classic was achingly devoid of a giant robot, hack director Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil,” “AVP: Alien vs. Predator”) stuffs the screen with Indiana Jones–style deathtraps and enormous, DaVinci¬–inspired airships.

Look, just because people have been reading and loving Alexandre Dumas’ novel for more than 160 years, why not bloat it with needless stuntwork and special effect gimcrackery? Rip off “Pirates of the Caribbean” to your heart’s content, filmmakers, but leave poor Dumas out of it.

Of course, it’s not just the 19th century French author who bears the brunt of the abuse here — the cast is unanimously ill-served by the material. Let’s start with the vapid, mush-mouthed Logan Lerman, who’s more Mousketeer than Musketeer. His shaggy-haired, surfer-dude demeanor would be perfect for a Disney Channel “Dogtown and Z-Boys” sitcom, but it’s jarringly out of place here.

Macfayden’s Athos is meant to be cynical and disappointed after his betrayal at the hands of Milady DeWinter — played by Milla Jovovich, and more on her in a second — but the emotion he tends to convey is what the young people call “butt-hurt.” As for Jovovich, she’s trying to be terribly, terribly wicked (and also a wall-crawling superspy in a bustle), but her performance finds a hitherto unknown middle ground between Divine in “Pink Flamingos” and Halle Berry in “Catwoman” that’s just embarrassing.

Milady’s exaggerated dresses wear the actress, and not vice versa, an affliction that also befalls Jovovich’s “Dirty Girl” co-star Juno Temple, here reduced to a squeaky-voiced cipher as Queen Anne.

Waltz apparently took on the role of Richelieu to prove that Supporting Actor Oscar winners are indeed cursed — charming evil was his forte in “Inglourious Basterds,” but in “The Three Musketeers” he’s just phoning in some warmed-over Snidely Whiplash. Not that his hammy villainy can compete with the insanely over-the-top antics of Orlando Bloom as Lord Buckingham, who camps it up like he’s playing Captain Hook in one of those Christmastime British panto plays.

I weep for those who will have their first exposure to this material by way of this bloated, moronic mess of a movie. Pick up the book, rent the unparalleled 1973 Richard Lester version — heck, even the old Classics Illustrated comic-book leaves this thing in the dust.

On its own demerits, “The Three Musketeers” is a soul-draining experience, but as an adaptation of one of the definitive tales of derring-do, it’s an argument against letting novels go into the public domain.