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‘Legend of Zorro’ is a good popcorn flick

Formula is predictable but cast pulls it off with style

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas in "The Legend of Zorro."
Columbia Pictures
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas in "The Legend of Zorro."
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"The Legend of Zorro"
Antonio Banderas is torn between his duties as Zorro and his normal life in this sequel.

Columbia Pictures

Fall means three things in Hollywood: The superheroes go into hibernation, horror movie buffs have plenty to pick from, and Oscar bait season begins.  By Paige Newman

REVIEW
By John Hartl
Film critic
MSNBC
Updated: 1:32 p.m. ET Oct. 27, 2005

It’s been seven years since Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones scored one of their biggest international hits with “The Mask of Zorro.” In recent interviews, they claim they had to wait that long to make a sequel because they had trouble rounding up a solid script.

“The Legend of Zorro” is the screenplay that brought them out of big-Z retirement. Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who created last summer’s costly bomb, “The Island,” it’s a similarly strained attempt to mix formulaic escapist elements with contemporary issues: terrorism, corporate corruption, America’s status as a superpower and even weapons of mass destruction.

Still, it works fairly well as a popcorn picture, especially once the exposition is out of the way. Orci and Kurtzman may work too hard setting up a complicated plot, driven by a seductive French aristocrat (Rufus Sewell) and a homicidal religious fanatic (Nick Chinlund), that at first seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. Once it’s in place, however, their narrative delivers several satisfying twists.

  Quick facts

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rufus Sewell, Nick Chinlund, Julio Oscar Mechoso
Director: Martin Campbell
Run time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
MPAA rating: PG

The director, Martin Campbell, who made 1998’s “Mask of Zorro,” is at his best with action sequences: the athletic sword fights (Zeta-Jones again demonstrates a flair for swordplay), a barn fire that turns into a frightening inferno (rarely have flames seemed so inescapable in a movie), and a spectacular train wreck that deserves comparison with the eye-popping finale of “How the West Was Won.”

Once more, Zeta-Jones plays Zorro’s daughter, Elena, and Banderas is Alejandro, Zorro’s disciple and replacement — and now Elena’s husband. The original Zorro, played seven years ago by Anthony Hopkins, does not return, even as an Obi-Wan ghost. At first this seems to be a problem: the Merlin/Arthur relationship that developed between Hopkins and Banderas was, after all, the heart of the first movie.

However, Orci and Kurtzman have come up with a credible substitute father-son relationship. The story takes place 10 years after the events in “Mask of Zorro,” and Elena and Alejandro have a young son, Joaquin (scene-stealer Adrian Alonso), who doesn’t know that his father is the heroic masked man who defends the vulnerable in 19th century California.

In fact, he’s quite unimpressed with his father, especially when Dad literally turns the other cheek in a dramatic confrontation with Chinlund’s in-your-face villain. It takes Joaquin most of the movie to realize that Zorro and his father are one and the same — and to recognize that his father’s measured reaction to Chinlund’s aggressiveness is not necessarily cowardly.

In addition to Campbell, Zeta-Jones and Banderas, there are several returnees from the 1998 film: composer James Horner, costume designer Graciela Mazon, and cinematographer Phil Meheux, who has worked with Campbell on most of his films.

As a team, Campbell and Meheux establish an understanding of the potential of wide-screen imagery right from the beginning. The opening sequence has an almost three-dimensional quality, as do several of the bravura episodes that follow. “The Legend of Zorro” may be fluff, but it’s fluff with style.

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive
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