Pictured from left : Logan Lerman, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson...

Pictured from left : Logan Lerman, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson (back to camera) and Matthew Macfadyen star in "The Three Muskeeters" directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. In theaters in October 14, 2011. Credit: Rolf Konow/Summit Entertainment/

Every 20 years or so, Hollywood takes another stab at Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel, "The Three Musketeers." Douglas Fairbanks set the swashbuckling standard in 1921, Gene Kelly sauntered through the 1948 production and the 1973 version featured hairy-chested types like Charlton Heston and Oliver Reed. Even Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland traded in their "Young Guns" pistols for rapiers in 1993.

What's the appeal? It surely isn't the creaky plot, in which our French swordsmen must steal back the Queen's necklace from some devious plotters. The crucial ingredient is the camaraderie between the three -- nay, four! -- heroes. Before buddy movies existed, Dumas wrote a great one, filled with action, comedy and one-liners in the face of danger.

The 2011 version of "The Three Musketeers" can't deliver the goods, despite its promising cast. The musketeers are Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans and Matthew Macfadyen ("Robin Hood") as Porthos, Aramis and Athos, respectively, but director Paul W.S. Anderson seems to think Milla Jovovich, the action heroine of his "Resident Evil" franchise, is the main attraction. As Milady de Winter, she delivers her usual punches and roundhouses but looks ridiculous hampered by a 17th century corset. The sincere performance of Logan Lerman ("Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief"), as aspiring musketeer D'Artagnan, is sadly wasted.

The villains' corner is overcrowded with Orlando Bloom, hamming it up as the snotty British warmonger Buckingham; Christoph Waltz, the show-stealing Nazi of "Inglourious Basterds," trying in vain to hit the same high notes playing Cardinal Richelieu; and Mads Mikkelsen, of "Clash of the Titans," as the one-eyed swordsman Rochefort.

Despite some fine-looking sets and effects (the floating pirate ships battling in the clouds are impressive), "The Three Musketeers" seems to be aiming for Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," another shallow, overly amped-up update of a classic. A little more Dumas in the mix would have helped.

PLOT The famous swashbucklers uncover a plot to send France into war with England. RATING PG-13 (mostly blood-free action)

CAST Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A superficially amped-up version of the classic story, with none of the chemistry or camaraderie of past movie versions.

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