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Has Zorro's sword slipped some?

By Steve Salles
Standard-Examiner movie critic

'Legend' has turned hero into a bit of a wimp

Alas, my poor Zorro. What have they done to you?

With much anticipation, I have long awaited the return of two of the most beautiful actors on the planet -- Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

They lit up the screen with their "Mask of Zorro" adventure seven years ago. Heck, it even caught the eye of Michael Douglas, who went out of his way to meet and marry the stunning Catherine.

Sadly, I must inform you that while the action may be just as dizzying as the original, this second story, "The Legend of Zorro," is less than satisfying.

Ten years have passed and Zorro (Banderas) has promised to hang up his cape and sword to spend more time with the family, namely their young son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), who misses his daddy.

But trouble is brewing around the impending statehood of California. Nefarious land barons would prefer the territory remain outside the United States.

Zorro steps in to make sure the voting goes well, but Mrs. Zorro, Elena (Zeta-Jones), is furious that her husband has put the needs of the people before her family.

And just like that, they end up getting what amounts to a quickie Mexican divorce without much discussion or turmoil. Basically, the plot needs them to break up, and the filmmakers couldn't be bothered with anything close to a reasonable explanation.

Before you know it, Elena begins dating a snobby French aristocrat, Armand (Rufus Sewell), while Zorro dives into a bottle of booze, taking his beloved stallion down with him. Yes, it turns out they both have a drinking problem -- the story tries to get cute, but mostly manages to become just silly.

Let's get back to Armand for a moment. Why would they take a fine British actor and try to make him French? I know we're supposed to hate the Frogs right now, but Sewell can no more do a French accent than Nic Cage can do Italian (remember "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"? -- "bella bambina ata three o'clocka!"). I wanted to shoot them both.

If that's not enough, the story goes off in such a bizarre direction that it feels like a bad episode of "The Wild Wild West" with covert government agents and talk of overthrowing the government.

Fortunately, the action is good enough to be entertaining and, more important, distracting from the ridiculous plot.

I hope this half-hearted effort doesn't kill the Zorro franchise. I'm thinking audiences will be somewhat forgiving, out of respect for these eminently adorable characters. But no more slip-ups or we'll be forced to carve a "Z" in the writers' tightie whities in retribution.

No one messes with our beloved Zorro!

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THE FILM: 'The Legend of Zorro'

OUR RATING: ** 1/2

STARRING: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Adrian Alonso, Rufus Sewell and Nick Chinlund

BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by Martin Campbell ('The Mask of Zorro,' 'GoldenEye'). Filmed in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

PLAYING: Layton Hills 9, North Pointe, Newgate Tinseltown, Walker 8. Runs 128 minutes.



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