MAN IN THE IRON MASK, THE

PG-13
Reviews

Coming off the most expensive (and, thankfully, highest grossing!) film ever made can be daunting, so perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio was well-advised to undertake a dual role. Unfortunately, The Man in the Iron Mask does little to double the pleasure of the audience-and the Golden Boy himself seems sorely out of place in 17th-century France, especially when he opens his mouth and reveals himself to be-resolutely and unabashedly-a contemporary American. That said, let it be added that DiCaprio rides this old warhorse rather well and, even if it never breaks into a full and spirited gallop, it is a painless and frequently scenic trip into a type of filmmaking that went thataway, Producer-director-adapter Randall Wallace extracted this romp from the concluding volume in Alexandre Dumas' Musketeer trilogy, Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, but the plot mechanics seem terribly generic. The title character is the king's twin, encased in an iron mask in a dingy corner of the Bastille so his bro can reign-rather petulantly as DiCaprio plays him. Borrowing a page from the Bible (the King David passage), the king sends his sweetheart's suitor off to the frontlines of battle to be blown to bits, clearing the field of amorous competition.

Unfortunately, the suitor is the son of one of the original Musketeers, Athos, and his needless demise activates the middle-aged threesome. The clownish Porthos and the priest Aramis throw in with Athos to avenge the killing by switching twins in the iron mask and putting France back on the road to good government. The hitch is that their fourth musketeer, D'Artagnan, remains loyal to the king in power.

DiCaprio's inappropriateness to the period gradually recedes because of the United Nations of accents that surround him. We have an Irish D'Artagnan (Gabriel Bryne, underplaying with quiet dignity), an English Aramis (Jeremy Irons, muzzling his usual priss-elegance), a French Porthos (Gerard Depardieu, in broadly crude comic strokes) and an American Athos (John Malkovich, all mannered italic rage), And this, we're asked to believe, forms a single fighting unit-'all for one and one for all' indeed!

The ill-fated women in this enterprise are mostly French-Judith Godreche (Ridicule) as the king's tragic mistress and Anne Parillaud as his queen mom. The most amusing work comes from Peter Sarsgaard as Malkovich's doomed son; either he is doing a dead-on imitation of Malkovich or Malkovich himself dubbed the role.

Wallace, an Oscar contender for the Braveheart script, plays with some arresting ideas that the central situation presents, but soft-pedals the action so much its last-reel assertions seems half-Bravehearted at best. But he does put on a pretty show. Some authentic French locations are well-used by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky-particularly the Chateau de Fontainebleau-and the production values are on a sumptuous level (notably, the production design of Anthony Pratt and the costume design of James Acheson).

Alongside previous men in the iron mask, the '98 contender doesn't amount to much-but he's all we have for now, and he's a rueful reminder of a swagger-and-dash kind of movie derring-do that has gone lamentably out of style.

--Harry Haun