A return to form for superlative action director Kevin Reynolds, who isn't hampered by the two most common drawbacks to his work: dumb scripts and the presence of his one-time friend Kevin Costner in the cast. This time, Reynolds draws creative water from the well of a classic adventure novel and casts excellent actors Guy Pearce and James Caviezel in the leads (as well as terrific supporting players Richard Harris and Luis Guzman in smaller roles). Pearce in particular chews up the scenery with a witheringly fey, callow performance that challenges the best villain turns of Tim Roth. The overall result is a solid, efficiently crafted swashbuckler. The director also remains consistent in tone and theme, a major flaw of his previous big-budget efforts such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Waterworld (1995), two pictures that displayed moments of real grace and inventiveness, but which were seriously hampered by Costner's wooden acting and too many boneheaded attempts to play to the cheap seats with ironic one-liners, foolish plot ideas, and anachronistic humor. Reynolds is going for a pulpy feeling in most of his work and he finally achieves a tangible Classic Comics flavor here, successfully mounting scenes that would have played as unintentionally hilarious in his earlier work -- such as the Count's arrival at his own "coming out" party via hot air balloon -- but here achieve a giddy showiness that urges the audience to join in the fun. That's not to say that the film succeeds on all levels; distracting indeed are some rather modern lines of dialogue and the fact that it takes only a goatee and longer hair for the Count to disguise himself from those who have known him his entire life. Fans of Superman should have little problem with this, however, and that gets to the heart of the film; Alexandre Dumas isn't exactly William Shakespeare, so filmmakers can be forgiven for taking poetic license in adapting the Frenchman's purple prose. Especially when they've done so this well. The Count of Monte Cristo is a fine and worthy B-picture in the best tradition of its genre. One longs to see what Reynolds could do with the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Louis Stevenson or Jack London.