It's wonderful the way the Hollywood studios are providing feature-length "rides" for the new stars they recruit. Last month, Warners created a Westworld for Ireland's Colin Farrell to ride roughshod through, shootin' guns, holdin' up trains and callin' himself Jesse James. Now, Universal is allowing the also-unseasoned Justin Chambers to cross swords, scale tower walls and wear stylish plumage as a dashing D'Artagnan. These may be great fantasy trips for the actors participating in them, but they are benumbing, by-the-numbers aerobics exercises for the audiences who watch them.

The Musketeer is Dumas dumbed down for the MTV set--as the title indicates, at least three-quarters lower than the usual. D'Artagnan is a man with a mission, out to avenge his parents' murders 14 years earlier, and he has nothing to learn from the three musketeers who got there before him. Indeed, Aramis (Nick Moran), Porthos (Steve Speirs) and Athos (Jan Gregor Kremp) have retreated into the local tavern suds, where they ferment and languish like bit players till D'Artagnan's ego relents enough to allow them to help extract his revenge on villainous Febre (Tim Roth, with sneer and eyepatch).

Basically, that's about all the story that screenwriter Gene Quintano has come up with to tell, and he could have dreamed that up without ever going near the book. The result is generically perfunctory. Peter Hyams, who directed and photographed the film, attempts to camouflage the pervasive blandness with frenetic camerawork and rapid editing.

Ireland's Stephen Rea, working in hissable King's English and nothing in the way of a role, turns in the film's one good performance as the wicked Cardinal Richelieu, while Catherine Deneuve walks regally through the chaos as the Queen of France, unfazed by the pointlessness of the proceedings. Mena Suvari as the wench in love with D'Artagnan photographs prettily alongside the equally callow and contemporary Chambers, who (like Chris O'Donnell in 1993) brings no vocal power or persuasion at all to the role.

The only thing you haven't seen before in this vanilla-extract musketeering is the high-flying swordfighting, which has been energetically and excitingly choreographed by Hong Kong martial-arts pro Xin-Xin Xiong. (He also doubles for Febre when Qiao Tan doubles for D'Artagnan.) Suddenly, once it's wired for action scenes, the film springs surprisingly (if a little ludicrously) to life--brawling in a barroom, scaling castle walls, wrestling atop a runaway coach--with blades drawn and clanking in all cases. The finale, where the hero and the heavy duel on a ladder that seesaws perilously back and forth across a rafter beam, is something to see--but don't give it too much thought afterward. The Musketeer gives you so little to think about anyway, that shouldn't be a hard chore.

--Harry Haun