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The Legend of Zorro   C-

Columbia Pictures / Spyglass Entertainment

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Adrian Alonso, Rufus Sewell, Nick Chinlund, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Raúl Mendez.

Review by Rob Vaux

I'm sure the forces behind The Legend of Zorro believe it serves a useful purpose. The studio clearly hopes to milk a few more bucks out of the franchise, while stars Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones get the chance to revisit their star-making characters (and collect a hefty paycheck in the process). But is there any other legitimate reason why this film exists? It is neither entertaining nor enlightening nor particularly smart. It works doubly hard to produce the same swashbuckling joy as its predecessor, with depressingly fewer returns. Its stunts are pedestrian, its humor old hat, and its attempts to keep the story fresh while maintaining an old-fashioned feel are near disasters. Besides sucking up money in a vain attempt to right Sony's ship, why on earth is it occupying perfectly good multiplex space?

The problems start with the foundation: a poorly conceived storyline rife with head-scratching illogic. Once again, Zorro (Banderas) must ride forth to protect the people of California, this time from a sinister Frenchman (Rufus Sewell), whose evil plot entails... well... um... no appreciable connection to the people of California at all. The Golden State's impending entry into the Union is the catalyst, but Sewell's character could read about it from the Champs Elyseés and still go about his business unimpeded. Instead, he drags seditious Alabamans out to the Mojave desert, summons members of his secret society from the four corners of Europe, and sets up a convenient winery as innocuous cover, all at great expense and involving weeks of travel. Why? Apparently because there's a masked do-gooder nearby who needs something to do. I suppose he just wanted to spare Zorro the commute.

The sloppiness of the setup is compounded by an effort to lend the film a contemporary edge, which fits poorly with the Spanish missions and haciendas of 1850s Los Angeles. Zorro's feisty wife (Zeta-Jones) wants him to hang up the spurs and devote more time to their young son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), leading to an oh-so-shopworn work vs. family complication. What's wrong with it? Nothing really, except that we've seen it countless times and its placement within the setting rings supremely false. It gets worse when Señora Zorro -- quite the dispenser of derring-do herself -- is forced back into action, which she facilitates by dumping her hubby and filing for divorce. Doubtless the screenwriters needed an excuse to deliver more spicy banter between the couple (their chemistry is as sparkling as ever), but the notion of a 19th-century Catholic woman divorcing her spouse -- for any reason -- is so preposterous that it snaps the belief suspenders right off. The result is a labored and largely unconvincing story thread featuring endless scenes of bickering and a loss of any genuine heart or character. Studio test studies seem to be the sole driving force behind it, and the need to develop something more creative was clearly nixed by the belief that giving Zorro family problems would somehow play well with the soccer moms.

Sadly, The Legend of Zorro fails in simpler terms as well. Director Martin Campbell (who helmed the original) maintains a modest series of rescues, cliffhangers, and other Republic serial mayhem, but their passable charms are undermined -- again -- by serious questions in logic. The sword fighting is fun, but the bad guys' copious firearms prompt the inevitable question of why they don't just shoot him. The stunts are aided too often by unseemly special effects (CGI is still cheating, guys), and the violence is surprisingly brutal considering the film's lighthearted tone. Most exasperatingly, Zorro succumbs to the old Fallacy of the Talking Killer shtick, wherein our hero escapes certain doom solely because the villains are too busy mouthing off to kill him. If the choreography were more spectacular or the swashbuckling more breathtaking, such slights might have been forgivable. As it is, they subject the audience to an awful lot of piffle in exchange for very little substance.

Banderas is as good a Zorro as any, to be sure, and he handles his duties here as adroitly as he did last time. There's some amusing banter between him and his horse, and he's happy to play the butt of the joke while still providing plenty of steadfast heroics. Zeta-Jones matches him pace for pace, and as their son, Alonso is reasonably charming as well. But they need a better adventure to embark upon than this one, which is too flabby, too homogenized, and way too full of holes to justify. Even the most successful franchise needs a viable reason to continue; maybe next time, they'll find one that doesn't come from an accountant's ledger.

Review published 10.28.2005.

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