The Three Musketeers ()

Directed by Steven Herek
Starring Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Chris O'Donnell and Oliver Platt

    Swaggering young pup, D'Artagnan (O'Donnell) comes to Paris from his Gascon home to become a Musketeer, like his father before him. En route, he 'rescues' Queen Anne and her handmaiden from their own escort, but otherwise arrives without incident, only to find the Musketeers disbanded and reassigned to the infantry.
    In quick succession, he manages to be challenged to duels with three swordsmen, who prove to be none other that the last three musketeers not to have surrendered their blades and tunics; Athos (Sutherland), Porthos (Platt) and Aramis (Sheen). The Cardinal's guards interrupt the first duel, providing a fine opportunity for D'Artagnan to prove his mettle, and with this cursory nod to the plot of the book out of the way, it's on with the show.
    D'Artagnan is arrested by the dastardly Rochefort (Michael Wincott), a former-Musketeer made bad and chief of henching for France's ersatz ruler, Cardinal Richlieu (Tim Curry). Angered by the increasing independence of the pubescent King Louis XIII - in part under the influence of his love for arranged bride, Anne of Austria - Richlieu sends a freed murderess, Milady de Winter (Rebecca de Mornay), to offer a treaty to his opposite number in Britain - the Duke of Buckingham. Escaping his cell, D'Artagnan overhears this plot, and although recaptured he is rescued from the block by the Musketeers, and off the run to make with the thwarting.
    After several botched attempts on their lives, the Musketeers capture Milady, who spills the beans and jumps off a cliff rather than face the headsman. Learning thus that Richlieu plans to kill the king and rule in his place, the Musketeers race back to Paris, muster their comrades and speed to the rescue.
    D'Artagnan foils the Cardinal's sniper, and a battle royale between the Musketeers and the Cardinal's guards ensues. D'Artagnan kills Rochefort, who - wouldn't you know it - killed his father, while Athos, Porthos and Aramis chase the Cardinal through his Dante-esque subterranean lair, where the King belts his erstwhile adviser, knocking him to his - presumed - doom.
    The Musketeers are reinstated, D'Artagnan joins their number, and the King and Queen are united in love. Aaaah.

What's wrong with it?

    Taking a cue from James Holloway, I shan't dwell overlong on the deviation from Dumas' original. I do however feel the need to note that what the changes made do is rob the story and its characters of every vestige of subtlety and interest. Arch-manipulator Richlieu becomes a lecherous pantomime villain, and it's hard to see how he got as far as he did. Rochefort does a magnificent job of snarling, but lacks the true presence and menace needed for his part. Milady suffers worst, becoming a spineless, whining underachiever, lacking even the courage to face her death with dignity, and failing miserably even to seduce D'Artagnan.
    In terms of story, the conflict of love and duty played out in the conflict between the Queen's affair with Buckingham and her devotion to the country and the treaty represented by her marriage is non-existent here, with the under-aged monarchy trading puppy-dog looks at every opportunity. The Musketeers' precarious positioning between the good of the kingdom and duty to the king is abandoned in making the Cardinal so absolutely and unmitigatedly evil.
    All in all then, the film has no depth, no layers, no subtext, and nothing much to hold the interest.
    Chris O'Donnell furthermore, has all the charisma of a carrot. His love interest, played by Julie Delpie, is barely in three scenes, and it's really quite hard to give a shit about either of them. The Musketeers are only marginally more interesting.
    There's also the excruciating 'Aramis and Porthos teach D'Artagnan to wench' scene, and the horror that is Paul McGann's shrieking fop, pursuing D'Artagnan throughout the film's quieter moments, in order to avenge some imagined slight to his sister's fairly dubious virtue.
    The whole thing also feels rushed, as the film tries to plough through a couple of books worth of plot in under two hours. The result is that the friendship between the Musketeers and D'Artagnan feels distinctly forced, and the romantic subplots are completely flat.

What's right with it?

    Some of the fight scenes are handled with competence, and while their characters are for shit, Sutherland, Sheen and Platt shine in the acting stakes; in relative terms at least.
    Some of the comedy is at least a little funny.

How bad is it really?

    Not so bad as some, but pretty damn dull. It's hard to care about anyone, and with that, it's hard to get any kind of involvement with the film, however glossy. See the Richard Lester version instead, then see the Four Musketeers. But don't bother with Return of the Musketeers, which - sad to say - is a Bad Movie Review waiting to happen.

Best bit?

    Fleeing the scene of D'Artagnan's thwarted execution in the Cardinal's coach, Porthos discovers the Cardinal's picnic stash, and offers a drink to Athos, who is driving.
    Porthos: A little champagne?
    Athos: We're in the middle of a chase, Porthos!
    Porthos: You're right. Something red.

What's up with...?


Production values - Pretty good. Nice costumes, flashy sets, and decent camera-work. The sound balance is good, and you can make out pretty much all the dialogue. If anything, it's almost too clean. 4

Dialogue and performances - Uninspired and uninspiring, the script was plainly dull enough to send most of the principles into autopilot. Tim Curry could knock off this kind of cackling cartoon bad-guy in his sleep, and it pretty much looks as though he has done. O'Donnell is unengaging, and the remaining Musketeers are phoning it in. Wincott and de Mornay are pretty flat, but they never really had much chance given the two-dimensionality of the characters. 17

Plot and execution - It takes a lot of work to successfully bring a plot as complex and sophisticated as the Three Musketeers to the screen, and this film pretty much doesn't bother. The plot is laughably simple, even for a film from our old friends at Disney, and it's just allowed to roll along without any degree of dynamism. 16

Randomness - Some, but not too much. This film lacks the imagination to be truly random. Of course, 'Porthos the Pirate' nets it a lot of points, but other than that we're in pretty stable territory. 9

Waste of Potential - See above, re. successfully making a film of the Three Musketeers. 18

Overall 64%


John Carpenters Ghosts of Mars (2001)

"Terror is the same on any planet."

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge and Pam Grier.

A group of ‘Mars police cops’ head out to a deserted outpost to transport murderer James ‘Desolation’ Williams (Ice Cube) back to the big city so he can stand trial for impaling a bunch of miners on spikes.
When they arrive at outpost whereinthehell it seems that everyone has disappeared apart from a few random prisoners.
After some deduction from the Scooby Doo School of logic, the group realises a phantasm is floating around possessing people and turning them into killer Goth metallers with piercings and tattoos, and impaling people on spikes.
The Mars PD have to team up with the prisoners and fight their way to freedom.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a shambles, wobbly narrative (told mostly in flashback) dull characters, even duller acting (come on Ice Cube, we’ve all seen Three Kings we know you can act!)
The fact that it is a quasi remake of John Carpenters Assault on Precinct 13, and throws in some of the themes that make his films good (a team trapped with no outside communication. Paranoia about who’s possessed by the unknown big-bad, cops teaming up with criminals, sassy women kicking ass) But John does nothing with them.
Gone are the days of his trademark edge of the seat suspense and funky driving synth soundtrack, now he has no build up or atmosphere and insists on blaring out Limp Bizkit esque guitar riffs throughout the entire film, even during the dramatic Pam Grier drinks a coffee scene.
The film looks as if it was made in the 70’s, not just in terms of special effects, but with the ‘druggie’ subplots and bizarre ‘trippy’ camera work (including the ‘ghost cam’ that looks as if it was filmed on a broken camcorder with bad tracking).

What’s right with it?

Natasha Henstridge at least looks like she is trying. Sure she’s no Meryl Streep, but at least she looks vaguely convincing doing the fighting and shoot-em-up stuff. John Carpenter does occasionally pull out a few filmic tricks from his top hat, and the funky weapon of choice for the Martian Zombie dudes is a razor bladed Frisbee that slices and dices several of the actors in the films one good special effects scene.

How bad is it really?

If this film was made by some unknown hack or a first timer I would probably be slightly less harsh about it. But seeing as John Carpenter has made some of the best horror and sci-fi movies of the late 70’s early 80’s, and given that this is a horror sci-fi written by him, it is just really lazy work. Frankly there’s no excuse for its crapness.

Best bit?

Probably Ice Cube lamping a Martian Zombie in the face with his gun then being informed he has bullets he can use as well.

What’s up with…?


Production Values – Nothing to write home about, basically one set, some red filters and lots of fake guns. The limb decapitation scenes are kept to a minimum and the make up and costumes look like they were nicked from a Slipknot concert. 14

Dialogue and performance – A few amusing one liners but none I can remember. All the actors don’t seem to give a shit. Ice Cube presumably going for mean and moody just comes across as sullen and boring. Natasha Henstridge is okay, but is lumbered with some rubbish lines and pointless bravado. The rest of the actors are there to get killed. 16

Plot and execution – Bad, plodding narrative, boring action sequences, zero atmosphere and chemistry, dull suspense and an ambiguous ending. 20

Randomness – No explanation as to what the Mars big-bad actually wants (although probably a bit narked as a bunch of slack jawed yokels have woken it up). Or for that matter whether it’s one collective being or not. It seems to be one consciousness (but then the ‘Ghosts of Mars’ title doesn’t work) It just kinda randomly floats around aimlessly like it’s a teenager and why does it keep floating past the people with the guns? Is Ice Cube a framed man (“It wasn’t me...It was the one-armed ghost!”), or a misunderstood murderer? And how long has his brother been hiding in a broom cupboard? 20

Waste of potential – John Carpenter has been getting steadily worse throughout the 90’s. But there is no excuse for this seeing as it is ‘Assault on precinct 13 meets The Thing starring the sexy chick from Species’ and considering he wrote it (and the music) as well. Must try harder. 20

Overall 90%


Spitfire (1994)

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by Albert Pyun.
Starring Kristie Philips, Tim Thomerson and Lance Henrikson.

Lance Henriken is Richard Charles, a spy for the British Secret service. You can tell he’s a British spy because he wears a tuxedo, shags a buxom random bint (whilst still wearing said tuxedo) flies a rocket pack and talks with an American accent.
And that is all in the first five minutes.
It turns out that Richard has a daughter called Charlie that he never knew about (and several sons that crop up throughout the film…I bet Bond always has that problem too.) and she is an Olympic gymnast and black belt in Karate. Rather than doing a moving father/daughter reconciliation he instead plants a top-secret disc containing launch code for a bunch of nuclear missiles in her bag before he is kidnapped by a bunch of hapless terrorists led by CIA defector (or is that defective) Carla Davis.
Charlie teams up with a drunken hack journalist Rex Beecham (Tim Thomerson), because Rex thinks she’s a drug smuggler and hopes to win a noble prize for his literary piece ‘The seedy underbelly of the America gymnastic association’. Plus it also gives Rex an excuse to pull silly faces and fall down a lot. Which he does every 5 minutes or so.
They go on the run to Europe, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, get into several fist fights, a few shoot outs and some stuff explodes.
The exciting finale involves Charlie throwing a key down a drain and Carla being pushed down some stairs.
Then Charlie goes on to win the gold medal.

What’s wrong with it?

As is typical of Albert Pyun the excitement level of the film is on a par with the re-arranging of a sock draw. He is clearly trying to ape James Bond movies but failing miserably with moribund action scenes, no jokes and Lance Henrikson as Bond. It’s all so po-faced, although the cast hardly have the comic timing for any gags, except Tim Thomerson who is reduced to a largely thankless role of ‘gurning idiot Journalist that gets punched a lot’. And is so hammy I felt like putting it in a sandwich (now there’s a bad pun for you Mr Pyun!)
Kristie Philips as the lead role; sure she’s good at gymnastics and looks pretty enough in lycra, but has the delivery capacity of a speak your weight machine (with a Dick van Dyke Texan/Australian/California accent) and he character is so incredibly dumb you just wish she would get offed rather than participating in another dull punch up involving her somersaulting or swinging off a lamppost.
Lance Henrikson is dragged in and from the looks of it filmed all his scenes in 2 days, presumably getting sunburnt between the hotel room set and the in the back of the van set. He looks thoroughly bored and thoroughly red-faced…Poor guy can’t even be arsed to look in the right direction of where the other actors are supposed to be.

What’s right with it?

Tim Thomerson is vaguely watchable, and it’s fun watching a bunch of European/Kuala Lumpur/Hong Kong crowd extras staring or making v-signs at the camera.

How bad is it really?

Bad, not as monumentally bad as Mean Guns, by that I mean you can watch it from start to finish without feeling physically unwell. But it is still pretty bad.

Best Bit?

Tim Thomerson pretending to be a female Hong Kong peasant by wearing a pink silk scarf and then continuing to wear it until they are kidnapped and the terrorists take it off him and he actually looks a bit upset.

What’s up with…?


Production values – Standard Pyun really. A bunch of travel video stock footage, some planes and quite a few foreign locations. It’s cheapened even more by clearly having the actors not together at all talking off camera then edited together. 16

Dialogue and performance – Nothing worthy at all, except Brion James shows up in the opening scene, says his line from ‘Blade Runner’ “Time to die!” then gets killed. 18

Plot and execution – Mr Pyun simply doesn’t do ‘coherent storyline’ films. This follows a basic premise ‘Bond’s daughter has a Macguffin, runs about trying to save the world and rescue her kidnapped Dad’ but still is waffling and bizarre. 19

Randomness – As much as you would except. 18

Waste of potential – Albert Pyun seems incapable of making a remotely good film so no surprises that this tepid Bondian romp falls flat on it’s face, and while it’s not as bad as some…It’s still not very good. And I was not expecting it to be. 14

Overall 85%