So it's 1850, California's voting on statehood, and there's a problem: The Confederate States of America are joining a French count to overthrow the duly elected government and -- yes?
You have a comment? There was no Confederate army in 1850, because the Civil War was a decade away? True. But if you're going to nitpick, how will you enjoy "The Legend of Zorro"?
You'll be complaining that nitroglycerine can't be shaken like Kickapoo Joy Juice, that a horse couldn't crash through the roof of a railway car without breaking its legs, that a quarter-inch piece of metal wouldn't stop a bullet at close range. You must cast aside all rules of our space-time continuum to appreciate a fantasy like this one, though even then you might consider 130 minutes to be too much of a good thing.
Antonio Banderas plays Don Alejandro de la Vega in this sequel, still married to Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and father to 10-year-old Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), who has unknowingly inherited his father's athleticism and daring. Elena wants her husband to hang up his cape and mask, but he insists his alter ego will be needed until California passes safely into the union.
Elena walks out on him, taking up with a French count (Rufus Sewell) who represents a secret, centuries-old, quasi-religious group of terrorists called Orbis Unum. She's working undercover for the Pinkertons, government-employed spies who are concerned about the count's alliance with a Confederate officer (Leo Burmester) and a psychotic outlaw (Nick Chinlund). Zorro intervenes to save his family, his state and perhaps his new nation.
A nitpicker may wonder how Elena keeps fencing and fighting skills razor-sharp without ever using them. A less critical person may wonder why the bad guys don't simply kill Zorro when they have multiple opportunities. Somebody facing away from the screen with a bag over his head would wonder why Joaquin doesn't know his dad is Zorro, as the man's only disguise is a four-inch strip of black cloth across his eyes. (Calling Clark Kent!)
Director Martin Campbell pays homage to another spoofy Western, Oscar-winning "Cat Ballou," with a scene of the drunken Alejandro and his drunken horse leaning against a wall. If you watch closely, you'll see tributes like this: The governor is played by Pedro Armendáriz Jr., son of the actor who appeared in John Ford's westerns.
If you pay only rudimentary attention, you can still enjoy the bravura antics of the stars and the lovely, rolling hills of both California and Zeta-Jones, displayed to maximum (though PG-13) effect. Now that I think of it, paying rudimentary attention may be the best way to take in "The Legend of Zorro."
The Legend of Zorro
Action-packed, plot-heavy silliness about terrorists taking over California in the 1850s. Too much "fun" for me, though maybe not for you.
STARS: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rufus Sewell, Adrian Alonso.
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell.
LENGTH: 130 minutes.
RATING: PG (sequences of violence/peril, language, some suggestive moments).