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If Only You Were Me

The Legend of Zorro: Noisier and less charming than the first
Jay Stone
CanWest News Service

Antonio Banderas returns as the title character in The Legend of Zorro. (Columbia Pictures)

The Legend of Zorro
Starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones; directed by Martin Campbell
Rating: 2 stars (out of five)

The first post-9/11 Zorro has come to the screen, wrapped in a large American flag and several yards of bunting to tell the story of how a European secret society tried to sabotage America and, if I have this correctly, start the Civil War. They did this with explosives that they hid in bottles of French wine, using -- in a rather underhanded stab at America's Gallic friends -- bars of soap.

That's The Legend of Zorro, a noisy and charmless sequel to what was, back in 1998, a high-spirited frolic that gave us dashing Antonio Banderas as the handsome Spanish freedom-fighter and breathtaking newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones as the woman he could not (or perhaps could) tame. There were lots of swell swordfights and the Scarlet Pimpernelian pleasure of watching the foppish Alejandro De La Vega turn into the indomitable masked warrior, with no one the wiser.

That's all gone now: Banderas's Zorro has become, in his middle age, a Latino Batman, a master of ninja-jumps and twirls. Zorro is now a franchise film and the fun has been submerged in a sea of preposterous fights, silly chases and a group of villains who wouldn't be out of place in an early James Bond adventure, perfect, perhaps for director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye and the next 007 movie, Casino Royale).

The time is 1850, and Zorro and Elena have been married for 10 years. They have a son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), who idolizes Zorro and holds his own father in contempt, unaware of the irony that they are one and the same man. This bit of business culminates in a scene in which the boy confronts Zorro and does not recognize him, a sure sign that dad has been working late at the office far too often.

California is about to become the 31st state, giving rise to much peasant clamour about freedom and America, although you suspect that if the peons knew Arnold Schwarzenegger would be their governor 150 years hence, they might not be quite as disposed to throw their sombreros into the air every five minutes. There is also trouble brewing at Casa De La Vega, where Alejandro continues to do Zorro work even though he promised Elena he would hang up the whip and mask, at least professionally.

"For 10 years you have fought to give California its freedom," she says in a typical husband-and-wife exchange. "Why can't you give us ours?" This leads to exactly the argument you expect; it wouldn't be surprising if Alejandro and Elena went out later and carved Zs on the screenwriters.

And soon -- in a plot twist that you can see coming from the Alamo -- Elena reappears on the arms of Armand (Rufus Sewell), an oily French count building a vineyard where he promises good jobs and no exploitation, immediately arousing everyone's suspicions. At the same time, a bad guy name McGivens (Nick Chinlund) -- a refugee from an old Clint Eastwood Western who has the scar of a cross near his eye and who never shaves -- is touring the countryside with his gang, terrorizing people until Zorro arrives to kick him in the pants or drop him on a cactus (in this family-friendly film, Zorro never kills anyone; they either die of their own malfeasance or they make do with numerous amusing crotch injuries.)

Zorro has become a superhero, capable of outrunning a charging horse-drawn wagon and with a facility for mid-air flips during his swordfights. It makes him look like someone who wandered into an Asian martial arts movie with a black cape on, and combined with the loud explosions and complicated intrigues -- if I never see another secret society bent on changing history, it will be too soon -- it has turned The Legend of Zorro into a special-effects marathon. There is still movie-star chemistry (Alejandro and Elena exchange several, um, freedom kisses) but what was once amusing is now derivative (Alejandro gets drunk and so does his horse, a trope stolen directly from Cat Ballou.) This Zorro makes the sign of the C-minus.


© CanWest News Service 2005

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