On Guard

dir. de Broca

Opens Fri Feb 21

Clinton Street Theater

Simplicity: it's a bit of a rarity in these days of twisty-turny screenplays. In fact, so many movies depend on the twisty-turny aspects of their scripts, the modern audience can generally figure out any "twist" long before it ever gets a chance to "turn." That's why the French swashbuckler On Guard is so wholly entertaining. By relying on a decidedly un-modern style of story (based on La Bossu, the 1857 novel by Paul Feval), On Guard successfully lulls its audience with simplicity, and then WHAMMO! It hits you with a kinky twist.

Daniel Auteuil plays the sword-wielding vagabond Legardere, who asks a handsome Duke to teach him a very special and deadly fencing maneuver. The Duke (Vincent Perez) is taken by the brash young man and hires him on as a bodyguard. And it's a good thing, too, because soon after learning he has a newborn heir to his riches, the Duke and Legardere must dash off to save the baby from a jealous, greedy cousin. However, while the child lives, the Duke dies, leaving the baby and a sworn oath of vengeance resting solely in Legardere's hands.

Much like Richard Lester's 1974 version of The Three Musketeers, On Guard is heavy on the laughs, lust, and swordplay. And while the choreography might not be on par with Lester's classic, it's nevertheless sharp and gasp-worthy. Regardless of the script's simplicity, Auteuil's Legardere is a complicated and wholly likable character even when the baby he's sworn to take care of grows into a rather hot-looking teen who begins making advances toward her surrogate papa (Eeep!).

How they were able to turn this pedophilic plot twist into a charming story line still boggles my imagination. I suppose you could chalk it up to the directorial skill of Phillipe de Broca (King of Hearts), whose lush cinematography so successfully whisks one back to the 18th Century, perhaps one can rationalize away the idea of a 40-year-old hooking up with a teenager.

Despite this truly bizarro twist, On Guard is a complete and exciting joy to watch, filled with the swashbuckling exuberance of classic cinema, and just enough "naughty" to turn the genre on its ear.