A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
I got the strangest feeling I'd seen "Royal Flash" before and in a way, I had. It's the new film by Richard Lester, whose previous movies include "The Three Musketeers" and its sequel, the not surprisingly titled "The Four Musketeers." This time Lester gives us a British swashbuckler, set in the early days of the Victorian period. But it's so similar in tone and spirit to the musketeers movies that we almost seem trapped in the interminable film.
Lester's hero is Capt. Harry Flashman, a cowardly scoundrel and womanizer who's the hero of a series of swashbuckling comic novels by George MacDonald Frazer. On the surface, he's the ideal product of a top British school and Her Majesty's Service; tall, handsome, impeccable, just enough of a cad to keep an edge on. But we know better. Flashman is inspired in his efforts to shirk duty, turn the other cheek, surrender to the enemy at the earliest possible opportunity and ascertain the whereabouts of the nearest reliable brothel.
Presented with some imagination, he could become the hero of his own series of movies, as James Bond did. But Lester and Fraser (who wrote this screenplay as well as the "Musketeers scenarios) don't really seem to think Flashman is very funny. And that's fatal, because in the business of swashbuckling, you've either got to be very serious or totally unserious. You can't establish a lighthearted tone and then inundate the set with buckets of blood and gore.
Yet that's what Lester does, and it's hard to laugh during whole stretches of the film because what's happening is so violent and spiteful. He never finds the right tone. And it's impossible to care much about his episodes, because they all seem so much cut from the same cloth. That also was the problem with "The Four Musketeers." After a certain quota of gallant heroes, dastardly villains, pure maidens and lusty wenches are introduced, their various duelings and joinings lose purpose and pattern. We don't care what happens because it's all so arbitrary.