THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (Martin Campbell). 131 minutes. Opens Friday (October 28). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating:
The real show in this action comedy is Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones as eternally battling lovers. They take mutual hostility and heat to levels seldom reached before. The story picks up sometime after 1998's The Mask Of Zorro.
This time, she's enraged because he's too busy being Zorro to be there for his son, so she divorces him and takes up with a French aristocrat. But he can't quit: California's on the verge of statehood and there's a nefarious plot afoot to ruin it all. Banderas invests Zorro and his alter ego, Alejandro, with immense heart, ego, stubbornness and pure joy. Zorro's a happy swashbuckler who delights in both the action, of which there's plenty, and the adulation of the crowd.
This is the role Zeta-Jones was born for. As Elena, she not only keeps up with Zorro in every way, she somehow suggests that she might be just a little bit brighter. Among the highlights are Alejandro's drunken appearance at a ball where he, Elena and Armand, the aristocrat, do a formal dance of mutual detestation.
There's a nice moment when Zorro, squaring off for the final fight, snorts like a horse. It links him to his giant black steed, who has just performed a heroic leap onto a moving train, and to his son, who will shortly mount that same horse for a death-defying ride. It suggests something of the nature of Zorro's power and gives weight to his wife's line, "You are your father's son," as she sends the kid off. Very nice for a mere throwaway that Banderas might have invented on the spot.
It's one of many little touches, including a Cat Ballou homage by Zorro's uncooperative horse, that give extra sparkle to what's already a very good high-energy entertainment.