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Man In The Iron Mask
Too Much Derring-Don't

Dr. Daniel's review of The Man in the Iron Mask

 

Okay, here's the deal. I've never been one to begrudge a person his moment in the spotlight. Personally, I'm of a mind to say, "You want it, you got it," and leave well enough alone. Right now, there's a certain Glory Boy basking in it for the whole world to worship and adore. He's young, he's good-looking, he's got a certain class about him. And, despite his past work, he seems to owe everything to a big ol' boat and a chunk of ice.

You can't pass a magazine rack without seeing Leonardo DiCaprio's face staring at you. He may be smiling, he may be snuggling on Kate Winslet, or (my personal favorite), he may be in some cockamamie brooding pose, making him look all introspective and mysterious, like those legendary photos of James Dean. His turn in Titanic won the hearts of every female between the ages of 11 and Dead, and he's just a snorting buck of 22. And, granted, it was his characterization of Jack Dawson, the young man with a sketchbook full of dreams, that has spurred many a lass to commit three hours and eighteen minutes of their lives over and over again to staring up at his drowning face. I mean, my nurse Martha Nell has seen the thing twelve times, including a mind-numbing three times in one day during opening weekend. She said her butt was numb as a hubcap for two days after.

I just wish more folks would don their little memory caps and remember that DiCaprio was a dang good actor long before hitching a ride on Cameron's tugboat. He grabbed an Oscar nomination for What's Eating Gilbert Grape with a remarkable performance. He soared through Jim Carroll's story The Basketball Diaries, a movie that many thought would never be made because nobody wanted to play the lead. He added a much-needed spark to Sharon Stone's foray into cowboy heaven in The Quick and the Dead. And, most recently, he made Shakespeare come alive for more teenagers than Branagh and Gibson combined with the MTV-ized Romeo + Juliet. And let's not forget his incredible turn as the homeless ragamuffin alongside Alan Thicke in TV's "Growing Pains." Okay. So maybe I rewound a bit too far....

Anyway, at the height of this wave of superstardom, we get a new dose of DiCaprio Fever with the retelling of the Alexandre Dumas pere story The Man in the Iron Mask. The interesting thing, though, is, for all the trailers and commercials, this is not a "Leonardo DiCaprio movie." He's in it, and he's good in it, but the power here is with those other guys, those swordfighter guys.

We're thrust wholehanded into the midst of France, where the young king Louis XIV (DiCaprio), is ruling the land as decadently as any teenager could. He's even so nasty that, while the people are revolting in the streets, he's more concerned that his twin brother Phillippe (also DiCaprio) could somehow assume the throne, leaving Louie Louie with nothing but his scepter in his hand. So, he decides that his brother would be better off imprisoned and locked behind an iron mask so no one will ever know of his existence. OH! And there's this girl that Louie Louie is all stoked up for named Christine (Judith Godreche). But she's engaged to a good-looking kid named Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard). So Louie Louie gets Raoul sent off to whatever war is going on and makes sure that a nice target gets pinned to his back by arranging for him to catch a bullet pretty quick-like. But, see, there's the big mistake. Louie didn't ask around about Raoul's momma and daddy before axing him. Seems Raoul's daddy is one Athos (John Malkovich), former musketeer of swordfighting and candy bar fame. Needless to say, Athos gets a little ticked when he finds out what happened, so he gets the rest of his runnin' buddies, Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) and Aramis (Jeremy Irons) back together, and they set out for revenge. I hear you saying, "Wait! What about D'Artagnan?" Well, D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) isn't too high on the others' list, 'cause he's still loyal to the king and the twins' mother, Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud).

To say that this movie is "loosely" based on Dumas' book is accurate, if not sugarcoating it. Writer/director Randall Wallace takes the basic idea of the book and, for lack of a better term, goes chock full o' nuts with it. He stirs in way too much set-up and not near enough punch. There's a confusing subplot concerning Louie's feud with the Jesuits that just gets in the way. You'd think that the writer of a great movie like Braveheart wouldn't forget everything that made that movie great when he set out to make this one. A minimum of futzing around, get right to the action and the romance, balance them out with some character-building, and drive to the final showdown like a bat out of Hades. Here, though, he lets everything meander through the exposition like everybody should know exactly what's going on already. When we finally get to the meat of the story, we're stuffed with pretzels and saltines.

Thankfully, Randall's got a cast that can pick up a lot of the load that he drops in the road. The Golden Child does a fine job playing the dual role of Louie and Bubba, although it's kinda hard to buy the "evil young king" bit. The inevitable comparisons between these roles and Titanic Jack are unfair, but, the timing of the release, while Titanic is still slamming everything out there, only solidifies the "hero" image. It makes it very hard to accept the in-your-face portrayal of Louie Louie's meanness.

The real "stars" of this film are the Musketeers. You can always bank on intensity from Malkovich; the man could read a phone book and make veins stand out on his forehead. Irons broods well as the warrior-turned-man of God, torn between devotion to duty and devotion to the Lord. Depardieu coasts through as usual (anyone who can explain this guy's "sex symbol" status wins a cookie, by the way...), playing virtually the same character he's been playing for years now, the charming brutish lout. The kicker here is the dynamic way Byrne's D'Artagnan hits the screen. He's got that same inner fire he showed in The Usual Suspects, but it's channeled to action rather than dialogue. When he and the oh-so-beautiful Parillaud (you're welcome on my examining room table anyday, my dear) are onscreen, there's an electricity that is almost visible. Too bad the rest of the movie couldn't hold that current.

Is this a terrible failure of a movie? Nope. Could it have been better? Most definitely. If somebody could've strapped Wallace down and forced him to watch Braveheart again, he might've picked up on the stumbles and drags. If the push had been made to run this as a tight action-oriented movie, it would've been a lot more fun to watch. Any time you run the legend of the Three Musketeers out, we expect lots of swordplay and derring-do. In short, there's just too much derring-don't.

If you need a break from sinking ships and such, this movie is a definite "second choice." It'll quench many a thirst, and it has a little something for everyone. Suspense, action, drama, romance, it's all there, you just have to wade through chest-high fluff to find it. It's hardly perfect, but, for DiCaprio-holics, it's a double dose, and for everybody else, it's an okay piece of escapism in a month loaded with "reality."

 

Thanks a lot to Gabi !

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