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Plunge a sword through ‘Cristo’

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ALEXANDRE DUMAS' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO — ** — Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzman, Henry Cavill, James Frain, Richard Harris, Michael Wincott, Freddie Jones; rated PG-13 (violence, gore, torture, brief sex, brief veiled nudity); see the "On the Screen" column for complete listing of local theaters.

When filmmakers include the name of the original author in the title of their movie, you can usually bet that what they've produced isn't the most faithful of adaptations.

So perhaps it's fortunate for the makers of "Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo" that their movie comes just a few months after "The Musketeer," possibly the most atrocious, far-from-the-source movie ever made from one of the legendary French author's works.

In fact, compared to that film, this rather dopey swashbuckler almost seems exciting — stress the word "almost" and not quite as much of a bastardization of its source material.

"Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo" is still a piece of overripe cheese, however, with some of the most unintentionally funny dialogue in recent memory and featuring one of the blandest, dumbest heroes you can imagine.

That hero would be Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel), a French sailor whose naivete becomes his downfall. At first, everything seems to be going his way — he's just received a captaincy, which means he can finally marry long-time love Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk).

But all that is taken away just as quickly when Edmond's supposed friend, Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), betrays him to French authorities for transporting a letter on behalf of deposed despot Napoleon Bonaparte.

As a result, Edmond is arrested and assumed to have been executed for treason. But as it turns out, he's languishing in the island prison Chateau d'If, where he's fortunate enough to find Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), an inmate who educates him and gives him hope of freedom.

Years later, when an opportunity for escape arrives, Edmund uses his newfound knowledge to "reinvent" himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, and he attempts to exact his vengeance on those who have wronged him.

It would be easy to single out director Kevin Reynolds for blame. But screenwriter Jay Wolpert's script is filled with anachronistic and howlingly bad dialogue, and lead actors Caviezel and Dominczyk are extremely bland and uninteresting.

So it's perhaps no surprise that Pearce attempts to overcompensate for their weaknesses, giving a hammy, villainous turn that lacks only a pencil-thin moustache and an evil laugh. (However, both Harris and Michael Wincott briefly inject life into this mess — playing, respectively, Edmond's savior and tormentor.)

"Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo" is rated PG-13 for violence (swordfighting, gunplay and some hand-to-hand combat), gore, scenes of torture, brief simulated sex (fairly discreet) and brief veiled nudity (some skinnydipping). Running time: 131 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com