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October 28, 2005

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Listless 'Zorro' skewers sequel

By Gary Arnold
October 28, 2005

"The Legend of Zorro" displays scant aptitude for conjugal spats -- or anything else. Nevertheless, estrangement between Antonio Banderas as Alejandro de la Vega, who sustains a double life as the masked nightrider Zorro, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his headstrong spouse, Elena, is considered a plot necessity in this excruciating sequel to 1998's rousing"The Mask of Zorro."
    Elena wants Alejandro to retire his mask, cape, saber and midnight rambles. He protests, "People still need Zorro." She etorts:"No, you need Zorro." The upshot of the movie: "Who needs Zorro?"
    Victims of their own serendiptous success in 1998, the same co-stars and principal filmmakers, supervised by director Martin Campbell, have now conspired on a nest-fouling reunion. They trample the franchise to smithereens with a sequel probably intended to be a bigger, better combination of crowd-pleasing adventure, glamour, populism and costume romance.The level of professionalism takes such a plunge that virtually every sequence deflates or backfires.
    The actors look grotesquely waxen and listless. The action sequences destroy any plausible sense of heroic prowess by emphasizing outrageous digital trick shots that make mere stuntwork look valueless.The plot gets desperate and laborious while trying to sustain a half-facetious, half-imbecilic doomsday pretext: California statehood, circa 1850, is jeopardized by a French-Confederate plot to hasten secession and rule the world.
    The villains, fronted by poor Rufus Sewell as a French nobleman called Armand, threaten to launch a superweapon -- nitro, boiled up in huge vats and then decanted into the wine bottles that Armand stocks for his seemingly innocent vineyard.
    The movie concludes with a ludicrous, interminable chase sequence that requires Zorro to make a digital horseback leap from butte to train roof while the train is going about 300 mph. It also finds Elena playing ring around the nitro in a car that contains numerous bottles of the hot stuff, jouncing noisily on a rack but supposedly safe from explosion until she and Zorro can make preposterous exits.
    It gets worse: There's an insufferable whippersnapper, Joaquin, purported to be the 10-year-old son of Zorro and Elena.Played by Adrian Alonso, he's an obvious, unwelcome throwback to One Round, the juvenile nuisance in executive producer Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."
    The disagreeable recoil of "Temple of Doom" is echoed in much of "Legend of Zorro," although the latter doesn't look nearly as sleek, at least in the preview print foisted on this market.One gathers that smog was so severe in Southern California in the 1850s that one could never savor a bit of blue sky.
    Close to a total shambles, "Legend" is the most unsightly botch of its kind -- overblown and anachronistic Western spectacle -- since "Wild Wild West." Zorro's resale value, admirably durable over a 75-year legacy that flattered Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, George Hamilton and Mr. Banderas, will be sadly reduced for a while.
    TITLE:"The Legend of Zorro"
    RATING:PG (Frequent violence in an adventure fantasy context; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions)
    CREDITS: Directed by Martin Campbell. Screenplay by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtsman. Cinematography by Phil Meheux. Production design by Celia Montiel. Costume design by Graziela Mazon. Visual effects supervisor:Kent Houston. Stunt coordinator:Gary Powell.Music by James Horner
    RUNNING TIME:130 minutes

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