Directed by Peter Hyams, starring Tim Roth, Catherine Deneuve, Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Justin Chambers, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Nick Moran and Jeremy Clyde.

Is there any real point in making swashbuckling films in the 21st century? Are they not the preserves of the early decades of the preceding 100 years, memorably etched in the collective film conscience due to the presence of the immortal Errol Flynn? Director Peter Hyams obviously disagrees, and here is his attempt to bring Alexander Dumas' classic to a new generation of youngsters. Bad mistake.

Predictably, the film begins with a young boy witnessing the brutal murder of his parents in a small French village. Vowing revenge, the boy - whose name is D'Artagnan (Chambers) - is cared for by his slain father's friend, who tutors him in the ways of the world, as well as turning him into a lethal swordsman. Of course we never actually see any of this because the action cuts to 14 years later when the innocent young boy is now a fully-fledged fighting machine.

D'artagnan is now ready to travel to Paris with only two things in mind - to join the Royal Musketeers and, more importantly, to hunt down and kill the man who made him an orphan. Paris, however, is a hotbed of corruption and vice. Famed Musketeers Aramis, Athos and Porthos have been reduced to drunken, dishevelled has-beens, their captain, Tréville, has been wrongfully imprisoned, and the whole city suffers under the strangling grip of the Machiavellian Cardinal Richelieu (Rea) and his evil henchman, Febre (Roth).

The producers of 'The Musketeer' must have been aware that their biggest problem was the fact that here was an old tale which had been adapted countless times. Dumas' tale is so well known at this stage that the least it needs to make it work in 2002 is a spin of originality and freshness. Unfortunately, both are in short supply.

Interestingly, the production notes boast of a new interpretation of the French classic which incorporates the "gravity-defying dazzle of Hong Kong action choreography". Be warned though, these action sequences are nothing but a series of damp squibs and anyone expecting 'Crouching Tiger' set-pieces will think Harvey Scissorshands got a hold of the complete prints. But considering Weinstein isn't involved here, a PR minion prone to exaggeration must take the blame.

Writer Gene Quintano must accept a share of the blame too, for although he's limited with what he can do with the story, his script fails to tap into the joie de vivre essential for swashbuckling success. He even fails to give the script the sense of cheesy charm which can sometimes sweep you along with the proceedings.

The performances, too, are nothing to get too excited about. Tim Roth's turn as the nihilistically nasty Febre is simply another boring addition to his canon of Dick Dastardly turns. Roth is a good actor whose acceptance of a stereotype has reduced him to a caricature of himself. The only reason I can think of for this demise is that he absolutely adores money.

Elsewhere, newcomer Justin Chambers is plain dull and Mena Suvari, whose career choices since she starred in the acclaimed but criminally over-rated 'American Beauty' have been laughable ('Loser', 'Sugar and Spice'), is just here to provide the eye candy in the underwritten role as feisty chambermaid, Francesca. Unsurprisingly, Stephen Rea - like Roth, another fine actor paying lip-service to the bank manager - does his typically lugubrious auto-pilot routine.

Ultimately, 'The Musketeer' is a misguided shambles. Errol Flynn can rest easy in his grave.

Tom Grealis