“I may not wear a tunic,” says D’Artagnan to his swashbuckling new comrades, “but I believe I have the heart of a musketeer!” Actually, the way Chris O’Donnell delivers that line in Disney’s The Three Musketeers, he sounds as if he has the heart of a flower child. O’Donnell, the talented young actor from Scent of a Woman and Men Don’t Leave, has soft white skin, eyes the color of robins’ eggs, and the innocently curled lips of a baby angel. Beneath his ’60s-teen-idol ringlets, he looks like Jennifer Jason Leigh (though she looks considerably tougher). There have been many screen versions of The Three Musketeers, but has there ever been a D’Artagnan this tender-hearted, this spiritually prepubescent, this wimpy? You don’t want to root for this fellow; you want to protect him.
Fortunately for D’Artagnan, his musketeer buddies appear to be made of stouter stuff. As Aramis, who seduces quivering maidens by reading them “sensitive” doggerel, Charlie Sheen flashes his eyes and lowers his voice by an octave; he’s a friendly cartoon stud. Oliver Platt, as the rambunctious cutup Porthos, has the audience-pleasing advantage of turning everything into a joke (including, on occasion, the movie he’s acting in). His lines aren’t especially witty, but Platt, who’s been the comic relief in turkeys like Flatliners and The Temp, has a rascally sense of timing behind those plump, childish features. And Kiefer Sutherland broods handsomely as the lovelorn Athos. He’s the one actor in this Tiger Beat version of The Three Musketeers who has hints of a genuine romantic presence.
For all that, something essential is missing from all these young performers. It’s the quality Harrison Ford has in the Indiana Jones films: a sense of urgency — the will to action. Though the new generation of Hollywood idols have had their moments (from Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon to the late River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, they’ve displayed a knack for spaced-out absurdism), too often they just seem like narcissistically well-adjusted California kids entertaining themselves by being movie stars.
The Three Musketeers is livelier than its obvious models, the Young Guns films, but as crowd pleasers go it’s plodding and synthetic, with little of the vitality or satirical dash that marked Richard Lester’s sophisticated slapstick version (made in 1974). The director, Stephen Herek, would have been smart to take more of his cues from Platt’s performance; on the few occasions when the film slips into brattish MTV knowingness, it at least has its own cheeky flavor. But neither Platt nor Sheen — the two comedians here — gets enough to do, and the movie turns into a sketchy, no-frills retread of the musketeer myth, as joyless a retro-swashbuckler as Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. Despite Tim Curry’s dutiful mugging as the evil Cardinal Richelieu (by now, these “scene-stealing” villains are every bit as predictable as the heroes they’re supposed to be upstaging), the castle-intrigue stuff is bland, and the swordplay is poorly filmed, with too much chop-chop editing and too many close-ups. We get the energy of battle without the dance.
Still, I suspect this Three Musketeers will be a hit, if only for the novelty of seeing a new breed of stars go through the motions of romantic derring-do. The most suspenseful moment has nothing to do with the plot. It’s when D’Artagnan, after having been captured by the darkly amorous Milady De Winter (Rebecca De Mornay), wakes up in bed beneath her heaving bosom. Will he escape, or will she devour him whole? For a moment, the poor boy looks like he wouldn’t even know where to find his sword. C