THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Where would the world be without masked heroes? They come in all forms, including bats and spiders, and they can be found around the world. One of the most enduring Ė Zorro Ė was revived for the big screen in 1998ís The Mask of Zorro. To my disappointment, it wasnít updated or modernized. The filmmakers did a fairly standard version of the material. Nevertheless, stars Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins turned the picture into a summer hit. The sequel, The Legend of Zorro, is similarly old-fashioned. Itís also even blander than the original.

Banderas again plays Zorro, but this time the swashbuckler is experiencing marital problems with wife Elena (Zeta-Jones). She wants him to spend less time fighting crime and more time at home with their young son. The couple gets divorced just as a villain named Armand (Rufus Sewell) is planning to disrupt Californiaís pending statehood, thereby destroying the fabric of the entire United States. Would that scenario seem even more ridiculous if I told you that Armandís main weapon is soap?

To Zorroís surprise, his ex-wife turns out to be Armandís new main squeeze. This causes additional friction, as he resents her dating such a sleazeball. A whole lot of bickering goes on between the three of these characters. Meanwhile, the boy finds all kinds of ways to create mischief; itís obvious that heís a little Zorro-in-training.

The Legend of Zorro comes with a new family-friendly PG rating. This is a fundamental mistake because Ė letís face it Ė is there a movie that will be less appealing to kids? Zorro is too old school, especially in this day and age. The movie needed to be sexier and edgier than it is. The one scene everyone remembers from the original is the one in which Banderas used his sword to slash off the clothes of Catherine Zeta-Jones. It was a moment in which two very sexy stars sparred verbally, then made a move to something more physical and passionate. It was memorable. When you have Banderas and Zeta-Jones, you donít want to see them apart the whole time; you want to see their sizzling chemistry. Iím not sure whose idea it was to tame the movie down, but they blew it right there.

The stars are certainly well-cast, and the swashbuckling scenes are again well done. This kind of stuff is always fun to watch, especially when itís done with style. I liked some of the humorous touches in the movie as well. A few scenes earn genuine laughs. These things are rather regrettably let down by a dull story. This is one of those films where you can feel them straining for a reason to even have a sequel in the first place. The filmmakers obviously wanted to do a follow-up (most likely for monetary reasons) yet they had no creative ideas for it, so they slapped something together. Thereís something dispiriting about watching such an uninspired production.

Compounding that problem is the fact that the film takes 130 minutes to do what it could Ė and should Ė have done in 90. There are long stretches of boredom here, occasionally broken by a sword fight. The pacing is way off, to the point where one is likely to check oneís watch a lot. Director Martin Campbell is adequate, but the material needed a showman Ė someone like Robert Rodriguez, who would bring some hipness and energy to the film. Itís also worth mentioning that a lot of the plot rests on what is supposed to be a surprise twist. However, that twist is so blatantly obvious that it robs the movie of a large percentage of its interest. We merely sit around waiting for the inevitable to happen.

I wasnít a particularly big fan of The Mask of Zorro, but I could understand how its retro feel might appeal to a segment of the audience. The Legend of Zorro isnít likely to inspire another sequel. Banderas and Zeta-Jones are great together; letís hope they find another project thatís more worthy of their chemistry.

( out of four)

The Legend of Zorro is rated PG for sequences of violence/peril and action, language and a couple of suggestive moments. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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