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Mon 31 Oct 2005
FILM REVIEW: Zorro: the next generation
Pavel Ivanov

The Legend of Zorro

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rufus Sewell, Adrian Alonso

DO you know what a camel is? It is a horse designed by a committee. That insightful definition entered my mind alarmingly often while I was watching the sequel to the unassumingly fresh Zorro film of 1998. The names of four screenwriters welcome us into the movie, and this is always an ominous sign. By the time an hour of screen time passes, we are all but resigned to the fact that we had our misgivings for good reason. The movie has all the annoying attributes of committee work. It exudes the foul smell of a hectic plan for milking a business opportunity to the fullest. It lacks the elegant spark that caught us pleasantly by surprise the first time around. I was imagining the questions the Sony executives were asking themselves and patting themselves on the back for conjuring up the most obvious and tedious of answers. It went along the following lines.

What is the core objective? Recreate and capitalise on the chemistry of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones that made The Mask of Zorro harvest $251 million worldwide. So far, so good; time and nature have been kind to them both. They look as radiant as ever, with a team of competent costume and make up artists lending a vital helping hand. It is also true that the chemistry is still there form the word “go”, so a flying start is assured.

Where do we expand our target audience? Down the age ladder, and straight into Spy Kids territory where it seems Banderas fares best. How do we do that? Introduce a child character. Enter little Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), son of Zeta-Jones’ Elena and Banderas’ Don Alejandro who married with ideas of living happily ever after at the end of the first movie. Downsides? Little Adrian Alonso is laden with maddeningly precocious dialogue that would hardly endear him to adult viewers despite the kid’s undeniable charisma.

What else does our extended target audience like? Comic book heroes! True, Zorro is the first masked alter-ego hero fighting evil, and the public’s fascination with him arguably opened the Pandora’s box which all the Supermen, Batmen, Spider-men sprang from. What do we do with Zorro? We make him a super hero too. Banderas no longer relies just on the good old whip and saber; computer effects and trendy fast editing are his preferred helpers now. Banderas is hurled into a series of CGI-abetted gravity defying stunts of the type that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

What else do we need? Humour, lots of it. Sadly, quantity does not amount to quality here. The dialogue is so willing to please and laugh at its own tepid jokes that it almost hurts. There is another downside; the target audience is so skewed downwards that the humour needs to be as broad as possible. Consequence? Silliness takes over from wit and elegance.

How do we keep the Zeta-Jones-Banderas spark alive? Create marital complications. Don Alejandro is asked to choose between family and his do-good career courtesy of a pedestrian contrivance. We need to add a suitor to the now-free Elena to crack up the tension a little bit. Enter wine-growing French Count Armand; we will also make him the bad guy in disguise. Rufus Sewell specialises in just the type. But he is so English! No matter. Downsides? No one doubts for a second that Alejandro and Elena will get back together, so the break up is always an annoying distraction.

What do we spend the rest of the budget on? On the best sets and costumes money could buy. My word, they did a spectacular job here. Still, it is a sad verdict when sets and costumes are the best thing about a movie, which they are here.

I apologise if this all sounds too soulless and business-like, but this is exactly how the movie feels.

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