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    Zorro can't keep his sword still

    By Amy Biancolli
    NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , HOUSTON
    Friday, Oct 28, 2005,Page 16

    Historical accuracy is not the point of this film. Swashbuckling, marital rifts and dastardly acts are.
    PHOTOS COURTESY OF FOX MOVIES
    Whish, whoosh, wheesh -- so says the not-so-gay blade as it slices a "Z" on the chest of an oily scoundrel. "The devil will know who sent you!" El Zorro hisses, his overheated scowl boring into the fiend before him.

    Muy romanticos strings surge on the soundtrack. Zorro's sternum heaves.

    Elsewhere, his wife's sternum heaves. The audience's collective sternum heaves. So it goes for 130 heave-a-licious minutes in The Legend of Zorro, a rousingly silly sequel to 1998's rousingly silly Mask of Zorro, which starred Anthony Hopkins as old Zorro, Catherine Zeta-Jones as old Zorro's daughter, Elena, and Antonio Banderas as old Zorro's young apprentice, Alejandro de la Vega.

    That film and this one were directed by Martin Campbell, who knows not to mess too much with the genre's delicate balance of class-conscious moralizing and glam

    19th-century comic swordplay. All the

    elements but Hopkins remain: Banderas, Zeta-Jones, Tornado the horse, Zorro's twinkie little mask. No one ever



    recognizes him; in The Legend of Zorro, even his son (impish Adrian Alonso) doesn't.

    When we last left Don Alejandro back in 1840, he had hooked up with Elena and inherited both the stylin' black cape and subterranean superlair of Zorro-pere. It is now 10 years later, and Mrs. Zorro is fuming because Mr. Zorro won't retire: California, a newly minted state, no longer needs a vigilante named the Fox to

    protect peasants from oppression, or so she argues. The Fox himself feels

    The Legend of Zorro
    Directed By: Martin Campbell

    Starring: Antonio Banderas (Don Alejandro De La Bega/ Zorro),
    Catherine Zeta-Jones (Elena De La Vega),
    Giovanna Zacarias (Blanca Cortes),
    Raul Mendez (Ferroq),
    Adrian Alonso (Joaquin),
    Pedro Armendariz Jr. (Governor Don Pedro),
    Michel Bos (Archduke Wilhelm)

    Running Time: 130 Minutes

    Taiwan Release: Today

    otherwise. This age-old marital spat over home and work leads to an age-old marital breakup, and Alejandro stalks off with his trusty Tornado. After a forcible run-in with two mysterious dweebs, Elena files for divorce.

    Soon after, Alejandro learns that Elena has gotten cozy with one Count Armand (Rufus Sewell, who looks dipped in paraffin). This prompts yet more marital bickering, most of it intensely annoying, and if you didn't believe some wicked fight scenes loomed on the horizon, you might soon flee, black cape flapping, into the night.

    But patience is rewarded with fisticuffs and sword fights galore, a few of them clearly inspired by Douglas Fairbanks' spring-loaded

    athleticism in the original, silent (and amazing: rent it) Mark of Zorro. Fairbanks required no stunt doubles. The more earthbound Banderas does, but he's still a better Zorro than Tyrone Power, who was equal parts precious and wooden, like a knickknack.

    Banderas is no knickknacky Zorro. The only thing wooden about him is the scenery he bites off in every scene, a process too violent to describe as "acting." The other wooden item of his acquaintance is the set of false teeth belonging to one of his unsightlier nemeses (Nick Chinlund), who sports a cruciform facial scar and might, just might, be related to a secret Christian brotherhood that ... wait, is this The Da Vinci Code?

    No -- too many loud explosions. The aural and visual overkill isn't unusual for an action flick, but swashbuckling Zorro doesn't need it. He's always been more cat burglar than munitions expert, a slinky man in black who scales walls, sneaks up on villains, engages them with a clang of steel and escapes in a thunder of hooves.

    Campbell's film (and Phil Meheux's flushed, neo-Romantic photography) has moments that capture this sensuality and stealth, but it's noisier and longer than it should be. Zorro was never one to overstay his welcome. Wheesh-whoosh-whish.
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