Payback

Revenge is sweet.

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

directed by Kevin Reynolds with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce opens Jan. 25 at Majestic Bay, Metro, Pacific Place, and others

AFTER ALMOST annihilating the persona of Kevin Costner—thank you!--with Waterworld, director Kevin Reynolds returns with this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' principled revenge novel. Surprisingly, Reynolds' gifted, game cast converts a meager script into a rowdy mug-a-thon comparable to his Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Even as Reynolds crayons out every plot machination, Count's central story is as muscular as ever: In 1815, handsome French sailor Dantes (Jim Caviezel) is framed for treason and banished to a desolate penitentiary. There, a grizzled lifer (Richard Harris) not only gives Dantes a Harvard-caliber education tuition-free, but conveniently volunteers a map to buried riches. When Dantes escapes 13 years later and hunts down the treasure, it's payback time! Subtlety is flung down the basement steps, bound and gagged, and the players take over.

One of the many bastards overdue for comeuppance is Dantes' lecherous ex-best friend, played by Memento's Guy Pearce with literally tangible petulance. His chin is fixed at a 45-degree incline. His lower lip wriggles as if there were a caterpillar sewn inside. When he scoffs, "The combination of Paris and me is hardly a recipe for fidelity," seismic activity from the audience's collective "gaydar" could collapse the theater. The man is a godsend.

Extra bonus: Count's support corps is just as brash and colorful. Michael Wincott slays as the forlorn, masochistic prison warden. Disposing of a deceased inmate, he sighs, "We bequeath you your humble servant . . . whatever his name was. God, I'm so bored." What's more, veteran character actor Luis Guzmá® plays Dantes' knife-wielding bodyguard as if he were doing Boogie Nights outtakes. Again, inexplicable!

Caviezel has to buckle down and take this shit seriously, advancing skillfully from naive, illiterate lover to nihilistic prisoner to debonair count. His unexpectedly accomplished performance has a way of making a guy forget all about Costner's gills.

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