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Banderas dons mask, cape in ‘Zorro’

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by Bryan Koronkiewicz
Monday, October 31, 2005

“Swashbuckling” is a word that does not get used nearly as much as it should. Thankfully Zorro, one of the greatest swashbucklers of all time, is back on the big screen in “The Legend of Zorro,” reintroducing the term to the public vocabulary.

Following the box-office success of 1998’s blockbuster “The Mask of Zorro,” director Martin Campbell returns with a new chapter in his reinterpreted version of Zorro — the classic character of both film and literature. Returning with Campbell are Antonio Banderas (“Shrek 2”) reprising his role as the Z-man himself, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Ocean’s Twelve”) as his leading lady, Elena, to whom the Zorro is now married.

Even though “Mask” was in theaters only seven years ago, “Legend” picks up 10 years after the original. The year is 1850 and California, now free from Spanish colonial rule, is on the verge of entering the union as America’s 31st state. However, the people of California are far from trouble-free. A mix of civilians and ruffians still inhabits the Old West and disputes are all too often settled with fisticuffs or gunfire. And more often than not, Jacob McGivens (Nick Chinlund, “The Chronicles of Riddick”) is involved. The quintessential baddy who is as ugly as he is evil, McGivens is causing problems in hopes of deterring California’s chance for statehood. Luckily, Zorro continues to ensure that all is well and just in the world.

However, Elena wants nothing to do with Zorro’s ceaseless crusading. Zorro (whose real name is Don Alejandro de la Vega) is being pressured by his wife to retire from the swashbuckling business, wanting him to become a dedicated family man. But being the relentless hero that he is, Zorro just can’t seem to settle down — especially at a time when the good people of California continue to rely on him for protection.

Adding to his problems, Zorro has a rocky relationship with his rambunctious and troublemaking 10-year-old son, Joaquin, played by the undeniably cute newcomer Adrian Alonso. Although the boy does not know his father’s alter-identity, he has more in common with him than either of them knows. However, both Elena and Joaquin become fed up with Zorro’s inability to be a good husband and father, inevitably causing Elena to file for divorce.

While trying to simultaneously right his wrongs with his family and save the innocent from harm, Zorro stumbles upon a heinous plan. “Legend” uses the generic action-flick plot of foreign bad guys trying to bring about the demise of the United States (of course with the help of some particularly dangerous explosives). And like most action-adventure heroes, Zorro can’t help but get himself involved.

Adhering to the fundamentals of the action-adventure genre, “Legend” does not take long to set up its predisposition for fight sequences. In the first scene, barely giving the opening credits time to disappear, Zorro is single-handedly battling McGivens and his gang. Action sequences such as these manage to show the true essence of the hero (whose name is the Spanish word for “fox”), fittingly displaying Zorro as an agile fighter, dashing and leaping with the greatest of ease. However, the fights seem to occur every 10 to 15 minutes. Moreover, the only thing that appears between the brawls is a weak plot that is no more intriguing.

The movie’s only real saving grace is the reunion of Banderas and Zeta-Jones. Besides providing something pleasant for everyone’s eyes, the two are sensational together. The couple that is arguing one minute and passionately in love the next is nothing new in cinema. Nevertheless, Banderas and Zeta-Jones play in a way that is not over the top, but still entertaining. The duo pulls it off mainly with their excellent use of comedic timing, providing laughs throughout the film.

However, the rest of the humor falls flat, being either cheap or childish — or both. The ridiculous gags with Tornado (Zorro’s horse) and the juvenile antics of Joaquin are especially annoying. As “Legend” is a family film, however, that type of humor is most certainly directed toward a younger audience.

With the addition of Joaquin and its toned-down PG rating (“The Mask of Zorro” was PG-13) the film is obviously crafted for the whole family to enjoy. Great as this may be for those with families, “Legend” ends up losing its appeal to anyone looking forward to something a little more grown-up.

“The Legend of Zorro” is fine for what it is — an action/comedy meant for bringing the kids along for the ride. Even though the film tries its best at bringing glory back to the word “swashbuckling,” it’s just not quite as entertaining to watch as such a fun word implies.

Grade: C