The Count of Monte Cristo

There is something about the works of Alexandre Dumas that continually inspires filmmakers to adapt them to the large and small screen. Dumas is the author behind The Three Musketeers (including the bad recent adaptation The Musketeer), The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Count of Monte Cristo, which has close to ten adaptations combined from film and television. The hardest part is distilling Dumas' swashbuckling sense and epic sense of scope into a manageable movie. The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic revenge fantasy, and this adaptation is junk, but it's fun junk to watch. Adapting hundreds of pages of plot into a movie is this film's main weakness. Miscast leads and cheesy dialogue are the other elements that prevent this version from doing better.

The hero is Edmund Dantes (Jim Caviezel, Angel Eyes, Pay It Forward), a decent guy trying to make his living on a ship. He wants to earn enough money to marry his beloved Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk, Rock Star, Keeping the Faith). The two love each other dearly, which is a cause of contention for Dantes' best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce, Memento, Rules of Engagement). Mondego is jealous of everything that Dantes does and has, even though Mondego is wealthier and more educated. As the film opens, Dantes meets Napoleon on Elba. He agrees to deliver a letter for Napoleon, but since he cannot read the contents, he doesn't realize how inflammatory the letter is. Mondego discovers Dantes has the letter, and conspires with the ambitious Villefort (James Frain, Where the Heart Is, Reindeer Games) to throw him in jail. The world forgets about Dantes as he rots in the Chateau D'If, a remote prison, for over a decade. In the meantime, everybody believes Dantes died and Mercedes marries Mondego.

In prison, Dantes eventually meets Faria (Richard Harris, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Gladiator) as he tries to escape. The two conspire to dig out of prison, but not before Faria teaches Dantes how to read and educates him. Dantes escapes and finds the treasure of Monte Cristo. He remakes himself into a nobleman, and sets off to get revenge on everybody he believes wronged him. Here is when director Kevin Reynolds' (One Eight Seven, Waterworld) film finally kicks into high gear. There is something especially amusing about watching a good guy turn so bad. Dantes plans everything down to the last detail, anticipating every move his victims will make. However, this is not really because of Reynolds. He puts the film on autopilot and lets the source material do most of the work. Jay Wolpert (The Lot) adapted the film, but left too a lot of the meat out of the story, especially in the first half.

The actors cannot do much because their characters are rendered flat by Wolpert. It seems that they reduce themselves to facial expressions more than anything else. Caviezel looks confused and sad in the first half, and confused and confused and stoned in the second half. Pearce, who is a much stronger actor, sneers for most of the movie. Dominczyk is the eternal damsel in distress with no depth. Harris is the most amusing character in the movie mostly because of his outlook on life and his situation, with Luis Guzman (Traffic, Magnolia) a close second. Guzman has the best lines in the movie, and brings a sense of levity that breaks the tense and boring moments. There are more of the latter than the former.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 11 minutes, Rated PG-13 for adventure violence/swordplay and some sensuality.

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