What useful pearl of wisdom is there to pluck from a four-musketeering, Hollywoodized romp featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV? What inspired revelation is to be gleaned from a movie in which Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich look more like ``Spinal Tap' than Alexandre Dumas' musketeers?
The answer is: There is nothing worth getting steamed over or particularly excited about. Leonardo groupies, however, will be pleased to see that the hawk-eyed doll-boy certainly enjoys a royal share of screen time. And writer/director Randall Wallace - who wrote ``Braveheart' - provides just enough swashbuckling action to keep the audience from dying in its seat.We're in the Paris of the 1660s. The country suffers under the despotic rule of Louis XIV (DiCaprio), who beds women then tosses them away, and who doesn't care a fig for the peasants.
D'Artagnan (Byrne), a former musketeer and once a popular figure in the city, has become the king's chief bodyguard. The three other musketeers are getting old and creaky. Athos (Malkovich) has spent the last few years raising his son Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard). Porthos (Depardieu) has become a tired, dirty old man who has lost his lust for life. And Aramis (Irons), a man of the cloth before becoming a musketeer, has returned to genuflecting pretty much 'round the clock.
When Louis orders D'Artagnan to find and eliminate the secret leader of the Jesuits, who opposes the king's wars, the bodyguard's investigation leads him to his former compadres.
Things get even more troubling when Louis sets amorous eyes on Christine (Judith Godreche), who happens to be the girlfriend of Raoul. Ignoring Christine's protestations, Louis takes her for his own, and sends Raoul to the war, where he faces almost-certain death.
It's time for the musketeers to fight again, this time against D'Artagnan, their old friend. Their plan includes freeing a special prisoner, the one in the iron mask, who has stewed for almost a decade in the Bastille and who presents a serious threat to the throne. (Even though United Artists - in an act of corporate stupidity beyond my ken - gives away the actor's identity in the trailer, I'll let them spoil it for you on their own.)
DiCaprio makes an appropriate strutting peacock. And the four older principals comport themselves with a sort of minimal competence.
It's too bad that Depardieu, the only French musketeer here, is forced to speak in halting English - and thus come across as a slurring buffoon. Had ``The Man in the Iron Mask' been a French-language production, Depardieu would have played D'Artagnan, and he would have made a far more dashing and interesting figure than Byrne.
But let's not get emotionally involved. This is a free-market economy. If ``The Man in the Iron Mask' does well at the box office, then we - like the poor rabble - should raise our goblets to the king of the moment.
Rating: R for profanity and adult situations
Theaters: Janus, Brassfield, Carmike 14, Oak Hollow and West End
How strange to watch ``Primary Colors,' an adaptation of a fictionalization of a presidential candidacy that at times played like a romance novel. The film is the image of an image of yet another image, a racy folk tale that has changed with every telling.
Forgive this critic for giving away the plot. Pudgy, people-hugging Jack Stanton, a Southern governor, runs for president and promises to change America. Allegations of womanizing damage his campaign, but not enough to keep Jack and his blonde, brainy wife from dancing a victory waltz on election night.
Director Mike Nichols has said ``Primary Colors' isn't meant to be about the Clintons, but by now their story is too famous, even mythic, to make us believe otherwise. The ``Stantons' of both the film and the novel by ``Anonymous' (later revealed to be journalist Joe Klein) can only be the Clintons. How we react is inseparable from how we feel about them.
A Clinton loyalist might be relieved that the director wasn't a left-wing critic of the administration. Forget sex. There would have been references to welfare cuts or campaign financing, maybe a subplot about Rickey Ray Rector, the brain-damaged Arkansas prisoner executed during the 1992 campaign. Then-Gov. Clinton had refused to grant clemency.
But a Clinton supporter might be disappointed in Nichols, supposedly a friend of the president. Not artistically disappointed; the film is quite well done. But politically disappointed, for ``Primary Colors' is surprisingly hard on Clinton as a man and ambivalent about his success.
The central character of ``Primary Colors' is not Jack Stanton but young Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), a congressional aide and grandson of a great civil rights leader. Tired of backing losing candidates, Henry risks his liberal ideals and lets himself be lured by the Stantons (John Travolta and Emma Thompson) into helping manage their campaign.
The Stantons and their followers are an attractive bunch: smart, sassy, resourceful. They have answers for everything, and they will have plenty to answer for.
The events Henry witnesses are slight variations on what is now popular history: the Gennifer Flowers scandal and the Clintons' joint appearance on ``60 Minutes'; reports about Clinton's opposition to the Vietnam War; the antics of such campaign insiders as strategist James Carville and troubleshooter Betsey Wright.
This film is somewhat softer than the novel, if not the actual campaign, but it's disturbing in a way only those close to Clinton could get across. Henry will come to wonder just what happens when you get involved with people who seem to know more about you than you do about them.
``Primary Colors,' Nichols' second feature with screenwriter and former stand-up comedy partner Elaine May, is mainstream filmmaking at its most accomplished. Nichols' direction is lively and confident. May's script is tight and nuanced, its balance between satire and drama almost up to the standards of Preston Sturges.
The actors, especially Thompson, do a great job of suggesting their real-life models without getting lost in them. And there are a couple of nice bonus performances: Larry Hagman as a melancholy presidential candidate and Rob Reiner as the nasal-voiced host of the radio talk show ``Schmooze for Jews.'
Travolta's is the riskiest performance. He looks a lot like Clinton, maybe too much, and he has mastered the president's soulful drawl. When you watch him throw temper tantrums and whine about the media, you get the feeling this is how Clinton himself behaves.
You could dismiss this as simply an impersonation, but Travolta's an actor playing a man who is essentially an actor. Nothing Stanton says or does seems connected to who he is. He's hollow, an empathetic puppet, and his smile can be as scary as a skeleton's.
Nichols and May might have wanted ``Primary Colors' to make us more accepting of political leaders, but Travolta undermines that. How good can you feel when the story ends with a man such as Stanton asking you to trust him?
BY HILLEL ITALIE The Associated Press\
What: ``Wild Things'
Rating: R for violence, profanity, brief sex and nudity.
Theaters: Terrace, Brassfield, Carmike 14, Oak Hollow and West End
Before a recent preview screening of ``Wild Things,' a Columbia Pictures representative addressed the audience of critics, film students and others. Would reviewers please refrain, she requested, from revealing the many surprises in the movie?
Fat chance of that happening. The film contains so many incredible twists and illogical turns that the plot would be impossible to synopsize.
Once again, we are in the sultry South, where bad things seem to happen. The locale is a small town in Florida between the Gulf and the swampland. Matt Dillon works as a counselor in a high school filled with girls who flaunt their young bodies.
Dillon is accused of rape by a nubile student, Denise Richards. Her immensely wealthy mother, Theresa Russell, vows vengeance, partly because she has been sleeping with Dillon. She enlists her socialite attorney, Robert Wagner, to lead the legal battle against the suspected rapist.
Another accuser turns up: white trash Neve Campbell, whose claims of rape strengthen the case against Dillon.
The desperate defendant hires a storefront lawyer, Bill Murray, who specializes in accident prosecutions. Murray seems totally deficient, but he possesses some secret weapons.
Two city detectives, Kevin Bacon and Daphne Rubin-Vega, investigate the case. He is skeptical of Dillon's guilt; she is less so. Bacon continues his pursuit of Dillon, with unexpected results.
So far ``Wild Things' might qualify as passable Southern melodrama, but Stephen Peters' screenplay is too ambitious by far. It changes the nature of the protagonists so often that the viewer is left in puzzled exhaustion.
John McNaughton's direction doesn't help matters, either. He seems less concerned with logical drama than with effects, such as repeated shots of alligators (presumably to depict the voraciousness of the characters).
Dillon and Bacon (who is also billed as executive producer) perform with customary skill considering their straitjacket roles. Murray supplies the only humor in the film, though it clashes with the prevalent tone.
Campbell is the standout performer. With her vampire eyes and blood-red lips, she is the perfect seductress. Watch out for her. She is not as dumb as she seems.
By BOB THOMAS The Associated Press