Dir: Kevin Reynolds. US. 2002. 131mins.

Hollywood's latest take on the ever-popular yarns of Alexandre Dumas is a straightforward but handsomely staged and consistently entertaining version of the author's classic tale of betrayal and revenge in post-Napoleonic France. Rather than attempting to jazz up the material for younger moviegoers (as last year's Dumas adaptation, Universal's The Musketeer, did), the makers of this Spyglass Entertainment production go for old-school romantic adventure aimed at a broad audience. Lack of star power might limit the film's US theatrical gross somewhat - it opened to $11.6m - but the other elements could lead to good returns in ancillary and international markets (where MGM/UA's 1998 version of Dumas' The Man In The Iron Mask made more than two-thirds of its total $183m).

Audiences will already be familiar with the plot, thanks to a string of previous film and TV adaptations. Edmond Dantes (Caviezel from Angel Eyes and The Thin Red Line) is a low-born but up-and-coming young sailor who is about to become captain of his ship and marry the beautiful Mercedes (Domincyzk, from Rock Star). An encounter with the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte on the isle of Elba leads to Edmond's betrayal by his noble-born friend Fernand Mondego (Pearce) and 13 years of brutal incarceration in the island prison of Chateau D'If. With the help of fellow prisoner Abbe Faria (Harris), Edmond eventually escapes and discovers the hidden treasure of Faria's former employer. He returns to French society as the mysterious and fabulously wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, bent on revenge against Mondego but still haunted by his love for Mercedes.

The script, by former TV producer Jay Wolpert, efficiently compresses the sprawling plot into a well-paced two-hour-plus running time and provides just enough historical background to give the unlikely story some substance. There are a few Hollywood cliches and a few lines of incongruously modern dialogue, but not so many as to interrupt the dramatic flow. Director Kevin Reynolds (best known for his work with Kevin Costner on the likes of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and Waterworld) deftly balances the dramatic sequences with a handful of nicely-staged action scenes, among them Edmond's thrilling escape from Chateau D'If and his climactic sword fight with Mondego.

Caviezel also shows real star potential as Edmond, capturing both the character's early boyish charm and his transformation into the dashing but steely Count. Pearce offers strong support as the sneering Mondego and Harris steals his scenes with an enjoyably eccentric performance. The elements are framed by some attractive production design work and atmospheric cinematography by Andrew Dunn (Gosford Park). The interiors (shot at Ireland's Ardmore Studios) also have the authentic feel that's often missing from Hollywood period pieces. And the spectacular locations -in Ireland and Malta - provide exactly the kind of romantic backdrop that the story requires.

Prod cos: Touchstone Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment
Dist: Buena Vista Int'l (English speaking territories, Asia exc Japan); Spyglass (rest of the world)
Prods: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Jonathan Glickman
Exec prod: Chris Brigham
Scr: Jay Wolpert
DoP: Andrew Dunn
Prod des: Mark Geraghty
Ed: Stephen Semel
Music: Edward Shearmur
Main cast: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzman