The 19th-century French novelist Alexandre Dumas might be puzzled if he could somehow see the latest movie adaptation of "The Three Musketeers," but any living soul who has seen the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise will recognize that this is an overly familiar 3-D swashbuckler that's as predictable as the swords that periodically threaten to poke your eyes.
Alas, Johnny Depp is not one of the musketeers, because the actors they do have don't go far enough to fill the comic vacuum.
The new script for "The Three Musketeers" also lacks the substance and wit to anchor another sequel. It just barely gets by on noisy spectacle amidst 17th-century French palaces, parks and taverns that look like a cross between a theme park and a video game.
Historical accuracy and literary fidelity obviously are not concerns here. Otherwise, how would you account for dialogue that so freely mixes period stiltedness and 21st century slang? Or a balloon-hoisted battleship that's a nifty special effect, but whose literary inspiraton is probably closer to Jules Verne than to Dumas.
Crassly directed by Paul W.S. Anderson ("Resident Evil"), this silly escapade at least knows that it's escapist nonsense and does not pretend to be anything more. Provided you put on your 3-D glasses with those expectations in mind, the movie is so relentlessly busy that it keeps you occupied tabulating its diplomatic schemes, seductions of lovely ladies, and swordfights that are as bizarrely bloodless as they are energetic.
Where those swordfights are concerned, it's also odd that these squabbles owe as much to Hong Kong-style martial arts as to any European tradition of swordplay.
The musketeers are not as fully individualized as one might want, but for the record they are Ray Stevenson as Porthos, Luke Evans as Aramis and Matthew Macfadyen as Athos.
The would-be fourth musketeer, D'Artagnan, is played by Logan Lerman, whose relatively slight stature and delicate features make his amazing dueling skills seem all the more improbable. Lerman in this role is only marginally better than if they had cast Zac Efron or Justin Bieber.
Also chipping away at this character's credibility is that D'Artagnan spends so much time preening that his actual courtship of a lady at court, Constance (Gabriella Wilde), only exists in a few fleeting and unconvincing scenes. He loves himself so much, who has time for anybody else?
There is a semblance of a plot, but it's mostly just an excuse for special effects-laden adventures. France and England are in a tense state of near-war, meaning that double-crossing characters and crossed swords are the order of the day, and the Musketeers are destined to be brought in to do the French king's bidding.
It's such a ridiculously over-the-top story that there's actually some fun to be had in watching the foppish young French King Louis (Freddie Fox); his devious advisor, Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz); the ever-scheming Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), whose success at intrigue surely owes something to her low-cut dresses; and the take-no-prisoners personality sported by a Brit bad guy, the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
Their scene-stealing acting would be more enjoyable if there were scenes worth stealing, but they're shamelessly determined to entertain you — or at least themselves. They're romping through an anything-goes French court in which kung fu-inflected swordplay and battling airships are the norm.
Put on those 3-D glasses and prepare to be bombarded. Also brace yourself for a sequel. Grade: C
"The Three Musketeers" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun