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'Count' is an old-time action flick

By Andrew Howard

teenbeat@postbulletin.com

'Count of Monte Cristo' -- PG-13

After going on a quest to observe big-name, Oscar-caliber movies in the past couple weeks, I was ready for something of a break in intensity.

So what did I see? Nothing less than a film based on a 19th-century novel. Oh well …; Fortunately, "The Count of Monte Cristo" did not require the kind of intellectual involvement the others did.

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The curtain rises and we see a small ship going ashore on the island of Elba, prison of the deposed Napoleon Bonaparte. Young Edmond Dantes (James Caviezel) is bringing his deathly ill captain for medical attention, but alas, it is too late. On this quick, suspicious jaunt, however, Dantes picks up a confidential letter from Napoleon (Alex Norton) to deliver to "an old friend." Unfortunately, this comes between Dantes and his affluent friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce).

Upon returning to Marseilles, Dantes is rewarded for his valiant action by being made captain of his ship, stepping over the more experienced Danglars (Albie Woodington). With his newfound power, Dantes, a son of a mere clerk, is able to marry the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), who is also desired by Mondego.

Without Dantes' knowledge, Mondego has read the letter and, knowing it contains traitorous information, chooses to turn on his friend with the aid of Danglars.

Enter Prosecutor Villefort (James Frain). The letter serves as a danger to Villefort's position; therefore, Dantes is sent to the infamous island prison, the Chateau D'If (not to be confused with the Chateau 14).

Inside, the Chateau is a veritable house of horrors. The warden, Dorleac (Michael Wincott), is a sadist, who revels in the pain of his prisoners.

After several years of imprisonment, Dantes' life is changed for the better. Longtime prisoner Faria (Richard Harris), a sagacious and kind man, enters Dantes' cell from a misdirected tunnel.

In return for Dantes' help with the tunnel, Faria agrees to teach Dantes the ways of literature, philosophy, economics and personal defense.

With the death of Faria almost a decade later, Dantes escapes with a map to a fabulous treasure -- the treasure of Monte Cristo -- and a plan to avenge himself on those who ruined his life.

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OK, OK, director Kevin Reynolds didn't exactly create a work of art with "The Count of Monte Cristo," but it is something of a revival in terms of the swashbuckler of yore. Always fun, rarely realistic, these films offered a great way to spend an afternoon (or, nowadays, a great way to kill a summer day).

But in all, the scales of pluses and minuses is tilted in favor of the pluses, so let's start with those.

A couple of performances brought me some enjoyment. The first lauds go to James Caviezel, a.k.a. Edmond Dantes. He certainly shows a great ability to be a vengeful and angry prisoner who later transforms himself into an affluent count. I also liked the Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque portrayal of veteran prisoner Faria. Richard Harris is able to present a portrait of hope and desire to teach in what probably would have been a cynical old man. Kudos to him for a great performance.

The flaws I found were mostly little nit-picky things that gnawed at me throughout the movie. For one, there is the fact that all the good guys have great dental work, while the bad guys don't (Mondego's teeth, in particular, seem to decay throughout the picture, as if they were an indicator of his increasing corruption).

Also, I found it a bit ironic that both Faria and Dantes are able to maintain robust physical health while subsisting on two bowls of gruel a day and an occasional rat. Who needs reality, anyway?

On the whole, I found "The Count of Monte Cristo" to be a far better film than the other Dumas adaptation, "The Musketeer," but all those little things added up in my head, which ultimately brought "The Count's" rating down to an 85 percent.

Andrew Howard is a junior at Rochester Lourdes High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903-6118 or send e-mail.

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