Paul W.S. Anderson’s version of “The Three Musketeers” is a wicked parody of the dumbed-down, tarted-up literary adaptations that Hollywood is famous for. The modern dialogue, the superhero-like physical abilities, the utter abandonment of logic in favor of inane spectacle — what a hilarious exaggeration of Hollywood’s lowest-common-denominator mentality! The only way the joke could have been driven home any better is if the film were called “The Three Musketeers: To the Exxtreme!”
Ah, but you’ll have to forgive me, for I have employed sarcasm. In truth, “The Three Musketeers” is not a parody of terrible movies; it is an actual terrible movie, one that reinforces the stereotype that the way to get ahead in Hollywood is to come up with the stupidest ideas you can — or better yet, stupidize someone else’s smart ideas — and pour money on them. Picture a comedy sketch where some hack pitches his awful ideas to an eager studio executive: “It’s ‘The Three Musketeers,’ but with high-tech gadgets and a mid-air battle between two dirigibles!” It’s one of those fake bad movies that people joke about, except that someone actually made it. I’m genuinely surprised that none of the characters turns out to be a robot.
I hardly know where to begin. I almost want to recommend that you watch it just so you can see firsthand how dazzlingly moronic it is, how stupefyingly dumb. Unfortunately, one of its myriad flaws is that it ends with a transparently cynical attempt to set up a sequel, and I cannot in good conscience advise you to do anything that would encourage this. So if you want to see “The Three Musketeers” out of morbid curiosity or due to a chemical imbalance in your brain, please do not pay for it.
Using Alexandre Dumas’ novel the way a tobacco chewer uses a spittoon, screenwriters Alex Litvak (“Predators”) and Andrew Davies create a version of early 17th-century Paris that is remarkably similar to early 21st-century Los Angeles in terms of people’s vocabularies, accents, and attitudes. Our noble musketeers — romantic Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), clever Aramis (Luke Evans), and brawny Porthos (Ray Stevenson) — are out of work ever since the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) gained the trust of the king and put his own army in charge of keeping the peace. Adding insult to injury, the musketeers were double-crossed by the poisonous Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), who used them to break into Leonardo da Vinci’s secret vault and steal a design for a flying war machine, then sold the plans to England’s Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
(Does Leonardo’s secret vault have ingenious locking mechanisms and elaborate booby traps that can only be thwarted by someone with the same physical powers as the woman from “Resident Evil”? You better believe it!)
Soon the lads are joined by D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), a smart-mouthed little bastard from the sticks who has come to Paris to be a musketeer. This cocky, mannequin-headed punk immediately starts picking senseless fights with people like Rochefort (Mads Mikkelson), the head of Richelieu’s guard, as well as the musketeers themselves. He seemed like such a nice kid when he bade his parents farewell, but evidently the three-day journey to Paris turned him into an insufferable frat boy. He is the hero of the movie.
Richelieu wants to provoke a war with England so that he can usurp power over a destabilized France. To that end, he hires double agent Milady to plant evidence in London and Paris suggesting that France’s queen Anne (Juno Temple) is having an affair with Buckingham. Anne’s husband, King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), is a vapid teenager whose primary concern is dressing more fashionably than Buckingham, and whose marriage to Anne was arranged for political reasons. Inexplicably, Louis becomes friends with D’Artagnan and seeks advice from him on how to gain the sincere affections of his queen. The entire film hinges on this one weird subplot.
Well, next thing you know, Buckingham has built one of those Leonardo war machines, and it’s a zeppelin, and King Louis thinks it’s really cool. Due to a complicated series of dumb events, D’Artagnan and the musketeers must go to England, break into the Tower of London, commandeer the airship, and have a fight with Rochefort’s troops, who it turns out ALSO have an airship, because they hurried up and built one, secretly, while the four musketeers were crossing the Channel. Rochefort’s zeppelin has been fashioned to look like a pirate ship, complete with an enormous skeleton carved on the prow.
And so on. Look, it’s not that I think “The Three Musketeers” shouldn’t be desecrated. It’s an old book, and it’s in French, and what do I care? You want to add grappling hooks and razor wire and secret passageways and chubby comic relief characters and people being pooped on by birds and ornate flying machines that can be built in less than a week, hey, be my guest. All I ask is that you do it well.
Paul W.S. Anderson, who possesses technical skill but is a terrible storyteller, doesn’t do it well. He flings everything he can at this pile of garbage in a doomed effort to shape it into something coherent, and fails utterly. It’s no surprise that he’s made a bad movie — he’s done it before (“Death Race,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Alien vs. Predator”) and will probably do it again — but it is a little surprising how this one manages to be bad in so many different ways. This pointless, ill-conceived, brain-dead train wreck might supplant “Battlefield Earth” as society’s favorite you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it cinematic disaster. Nondescript characters, flat acting, bland dialogue, contradictory plot points, lethargic sword fights, illogical motivations, wasteful misuse of Christoph Waltz, that damnable airship battle — it’s all just so stupid, so very very stupid. And every time you think it can’t get any stupider, it gets right up in your face, calls you “bro,” and gets stupider. The only thing that makes it stop getting stupider is that it finally ends, and even then you can see it still struggling.
F (1 hr., 50 min.; )