The Man in the Iron Mask begins with the realization that the three musketeers, who once pledged ''all for one and one for all!'' are older (if not necessarily wiser) and long ago took divergent paths.
Athos (John Malkovich) devoted himself to raising his son Raoul, Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) flung himself into gleeful debauchery and Aramis (Jeremy Irons) found solace in religion and prayer. But their fates will once again be intertwined with that of D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), who serves as the chief guard of Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio), the supremely demanding, arrogant and randy young king of France.
Randall Wallace, a novelist whose first screenplay was Braveheart, freely interprets Alexandre Dumas' 1850 novel and makes a workmanlike but uninspired directorial debut. Wallace is blunt and predictable &emdash; showing little of the swashbuckling panache and humor of Richard Lester's Dumas adaptations &emdash; and molds this Man into a self-help parable wherein each musketeer will attain emotional closure.
D'Artagnan seeks his old comrades' help in protecting Louis, whose lavish lifestyle and expensive wars have made the populace of Paris hungry and rebellious. But these three have an alternate plan to secure the future of France's monarchy: to replace the king with his twin brother Philippe (DiCaprio), whom Louis has imprisoned and made to wear an iron mask to conceal his identity.
Even with a cast of master thespians, this is decidedly DiCaprio's movie. As capricious, cruel and calculating as Louis is, Philippe is gentle, caring and humble. This pat setup is ludicrous, but DiCaprio manages to give it some emotional weight, especially in scenes between Philippe and his mother, Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud), and in Louis' charged encounters with Christine (Judith Godreche), the young woman he finagled away from Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard, doing a dead-on Malkovich impersonation).
Randall Wallace has attempted to re-create the old-fashioned Hollywood studio epic, where grandeur and romance could help audiences overlook historical inaccuracies and the jarring mix of accents from an international cast. But The Man in the Iron Mask is just cleverly packaged fluff, not unlike the candy bar that dubiously perpetuates the musketeers' fame.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].