"We know that the road to freedom has always been stalked by death." ---HL Staff that went to Rome---

BIASES: mid 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare

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MOVIE BIASES: Loved the book as a kid. Can the movie live up to my own self-hype?
MAJOR PLAYERS: Jim Caviezel (Angel Eyes), Guy Pearce (Memento), James Frain (Reindeer Games), and director Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld).

"The Count of Monte Cristo" is a classic tale of revenge, what happens when a good guy is wronged - and has sixteen years to think about it. The trailers seemed to showcase a sense of adventure in this not-so faithful adaptation. For a change, a movie lived up to its marketing: "Prepare for adventure. Count on revenge." And enjoy a few laughs at the expense of a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Edmond Dantes (Caviezel) is an all-around good guy who has a less than stellar friend in Fernand Mondrego (Pearce). This is proven out when Mondrego ends up framing Edmond for a treason he did not commit, all in the name of stealing his beautiful fiancé Mercedes (Dagmara Domincyzk). Shipped away to the Inferno-like circle of Hell known as Chateau D'If, Edmond is locked away in the prison isle to be tortured and forgotten. While imprisoned, Edmond learns how to read, swordfight, and, oh, yes, dig tunnels, all under the tutelage of Abbe' Faria (Richard Harris). Escaping the prison with the knowledge of Faria's hidden fortune, nice guy Edmond, now some sixteen years prison-hardened, is hellbent on revenge. To do so, he reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and goes back home to avenge his imprisonment and claim what he had lost.

This movie is great if you don't take it too seriously. You kinda get the hint when you see Luis Guzman (Traffic, Out of Sight, Boogie Nights), a wonderfully versatile actor with comedic range, cast as Caviezel's sidekick. Caviezel is fine, portraying all the appropriate emotions of wide-eyed innocence to vengeful, hardened hatred. Guy Pearce is deliciously nutty as the exceedingly self-serving Mondrego, giving his character's justifications for sins like adultery, betrayal, and theft a nobility, if not a sense of entitlement. Given a little more to do than just stand around and be the damsel in distress, Polish actress Dagmara Domincyzk is officially THE REEL DEAL'S latest Crush.

When it's all said and done, this movie was made by the guy who did WATERWORLD. You find yourself laughing at inappropriate times, getting caught up in the swashbuckling rapier and dagger swordplay, and even feeling something for the leads. This movie is all over the map, but in an ambitious, campy, adventurously entertaining and good way. Edward Shearmur's lushly period musical score is as much a character as any of these obviously written yet well motivated characters. Like that matters, though. All that matters to THE REEL DEAL is that they keep the swords swinging, the guns blazing, and the treachery coming. Now THAT'S entertainment.

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