Frequency's Jim Caviezel is Edmond Dantes, the sailor betrayed and imprisoned over nothing more than another man's desire to claim Edmond's woman. Novice screenwriter Jay Wolpert, better known as cocreator of The Price Is Right and Match Game, has tweaked Dumas' tale and added an intriguing twist: Fernand Mondego (Memento's Guy Pearce), who barely knew Edmond in the novel, is now his best friend since childhood. When Fernand sells out Edmond to the complicit Villefort (James Frain), who jails Edmond in an island prison, he now does so out of a raging, long-simmering (and long-simpering) jealousy. "You're the son of a clerk," sneers the moneyed Fernand. "I'm not supposed to want to be you." (Pearce seems to think being covetous renders one a total bitch.) Fernand gets just what he wants: Edmond is banished to a lifetime of solitary confinement on France's Alcatraz, Château d'If, and Edmond's true love, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), finds comfort in Fernand's waiting arms.
At Château d'If, Edmond -- written off as dead by Mercedes, who has since married Fernand -- wastes away, but just barely; as it turns out, a single bowl of gruel, when consumed daily for several years, maintains one's strength and muscle mass. But Edmond is not alone forever: A priest, Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), imprisoned for decades after refusing to turn over to Napoleon dozens of treasure chests filled with gold, tunnels through Edmond's floor and spends the next eternity (feels like it, anyway) teaching his young acolyte philosophy, economics and swordplay--the fine art of revenge. Harris plays the priest like Yoda on a decades-long bender; one expects Peter O'Toole to climb up the tunnel bearing dry martinis. But Harris' are also the rare scenes full of vigor and wit. Otherwise, Caviezel, looking as though he's stolen the facial hair off The Princess Bride's Christopher Guest, is left to brood, seethe and plot his revenge.
Compared to last year's The Musketeer, a re-Dumas that clumsily retrofitted Hollywood storytelling with Hong Kong style, The Count of Monte Cristo is positively elegant and dignified. But in the end, it's a film so short on style and verve that it feels lifeless; audiences might feel imprisoned in the Château d'If, praying for escape or quick death. Thankfully, one need not tunnel out of a movie theater.