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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Sign of the Zzzz

Silly 'Zorro' sequel begs the question: 'What was the point?'


Ahh - I remember The Mask of Zorro.

Well, I don't remember it, exactly. I remember adorable Antonio Banderas making a fool out of himself while trying both to figure out this whole superhero thing and to win the girl - this luscious beauty no one had ever heard of named Catherine Something-Jones. But who was he fighting, and what was it about?

It doesn't matter, of course - the whole point of Zorro is the sword fighting, the slimming black-on-black ensemble and the way he makes the girls swoon. All of this came together to great (if brainless) effect in 1998 for Mask.

Seven years later ... there's a sequel. You might ask, as I did, why Hollywood waited so long to follow up such a big success. But after seeing The Legend of Zorro, I had a new question: "Why did they even bother?"


Legend is set about 10 years after Mask (meaning the gap between the two films is almost real-time!), and it again stars Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Alejandro and Elena. Now married, they live in a luxe villa outside the California settlement of San Mateo, and their son, Joaquin, thinks his dad is a wimpy loser who is never there for him. Of course, the reason Alejandro isn't around is because he's protecting the town as the hero Joaquin admires.

California is on its way to becoming a state, and the citizens of San Mateo (most of whom are of Mexican descent and all but five of whom seem to be computer-generated) vote overwhelmingly in favor of the constitution because they see statehood as a big step toward "freedom." (Actually, the California constitution granted suffrage only to white men. It's never explained how the people of San Mateo would benefit by being a part of America. In fact, Alejandro and Elena learn the U.S. government can cause a lot of trouble, in a plot point that is buried under the simpler "freedom" theme.)

Anyway, there's this fellow named McGivens who thinks God doesn't want Latinos to be a part of America. There's also Armand, a mysterious Frenchman with designs on Elena. Plus, there are these shadowy men who follow everyone around and a Southern general who doesn't like the idea of a new free state ...

The point is, Zorro has lots of enemies to fight - so, um, where's the fighting? Most of the movie is taken up with discovering what's up with this horde of enemies - and with Elena, who has a few secrets of her own. This involves very little swordplay for much of the movie. At one point, the characters take a time-out from the plot to participate in - seriously - a polo match.


When the fights do come, they're fun - especially the one where Zorro and Elena fight side-by-side. Banderas and Zeta-Jones have a wonderful spark together, and Legend works best when they team up - like the scene where they happen upon each other while spying on one of the many potential adversaries. It's also pretty funny when Joaquin, imitating his hero Zorro, gets into a "sword" fight (using yardsticks) with his mean teacher. And Zorro's loyal horse Tornado is a hoot - my favorite character, in fact.

So The Legend of Zorro is not all bad - it has its share of entertaining moments. But come on - how good can a movie be if the best character in it is the horse?

The Legend of Zorro, rated PG-13, opens in theaters Friday.

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