THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Break out those No. 2 pencils, cuz it's time for a pop quiz. Which line of dialogue is not spoken in the latest screen adaptation of The Three Musketeers?
A) "What would you like me to put on your headstone? 'Little shit'?"
B) "Your horse took a dump on the street."
C) "Find my sword. It's the one that says 'Bad Mother#$%^er' on it."
The correct answer is C, although given the other liberties taken with Alexandre Dumas' classic novel, nothing included here would have surprised me. Now, I'm hardly a stickler for movies remaining faithful to their source material, as long as they retain the initial spirit while simultaneously succeeding as their own piece of entertainment.
But this Musketeers is a travesty, even worse than the dopey 90s version that thought nothing of casting Charlie Sheen as Aramis and Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan. Perhaps not since Robert Duvall danced around a campfire with a dead deer balanced on his head in 1995's misguided take on The Scarlet Letter has a film so savagely violated a literary chestnut.
Director-producer Paul W.S. Anderson is best known for those Resident Evil movies starring his real-life wife Milla Jovovich, so it's hardly unexpected that he stages this as a slick video-game adaptation, complete with an excess of CGI and a fondness for those slo-mo Matrix-style action sequences that wore out their welcome somewhere around the time Kelly Clarkson was winning the first American Idol championship.
Jovovich, in fact, is showcased in many of these interludes, as her Milady de Winter, heretofore only known for scheming and blackmailing behind the scenes, has been transformed into a kick-ass warrior, even dashing Indiana Jones-like down a hall that's shooting deadly weapons from both sides. Yet at least she possesses a smidgen of pizzazz; that's a far cry from dull Logan Lerman, whose demographic-friendly casting -- he's a young American who's cast adrift in a sea of European actors -- in the central role of D'Artagnan makes me wonder why they didn't go ahead and cast Justin Bieber or a Jonas brother in the part. Faring even worse is newcomer Gabriella Wilde as his love interest -- her line readings prove to be even less animated than those of 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL.
As the title trio, Matthew Macfadyen (Athos) and Ray Stevenson (Porthos) aquit themselves admirably, although Luke Evans (Aramis) is a trifle dry in his portrayal. Two fine actors, Christoph Waltz and Mads Mikkelsen, leave little impression as the heavies (Cardinal Richelieu and Rochefort, respectively), while current It Girl Juno Temple barely registers as the Queen of France. Ultimately, what's there to say about a star-studded movie in which Orlando Bloom (as the dashing, devious Duke of Buckingham) delivers the best performance?
Clearly, Anderson and his scripters felt like simple swashbuckling antics would be boring to modern audiences, so in addition to Milady's reincarnation as Lara Croft, a couple of airships -- yes, airships in the 17th century -- have been added to the narrative. The film's conclusion sets up a sequel, so if it indeed gets made, I expect the Orient Express and at least one Aston Martin to figure in the action.
JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN
The 2003 release Johnny English took a beating from most critics, but finding that it capitalized on Rowan Atkinson's abilities better than his Bean movies -- and greatly prefering it over those overrated Austin Powers films -- it managed to squarely hit my funny bone, thus earning a hearty recommendation. Johnny English Reborn doesn't earn the same measure of respect, but it does contain almost enough laughs to make it worth the ticket price. Falling a tad short, I would suggest adding it to the Netflix queue instead.
As before, Atkinson plays the British agent who sees himself as James Bond but instead comes across as a Limey version of Inspector Clouseau. The comedian has surrounded himself with good actors (Rosamund Pike, Dominic West and, for those wondering whatever became of The X-Files' Agent Scully, Gillian Anderson), but they're not funny actors, thereby robbing Atkinson of a crucial support system.
In the 2003 original, English's sidekick was humorously played by Ben Miller and his nemesis was hilariously played by John Malkovich; here, Atkinson is the show, the whole show and nothing but the show. It's a one-man act that he mostly pulls off, but a few more bright gags and a little less reliance on plot mechanics swiped from The Manchurian Candidate would have resulted in a more clever caper.