The Legend of Zorro
Directed by Martin Campbell
After a 7-year absence, Zorro is back and the result is a juvenile, but zippy, zinger.
At one point in The Legend of Zorro an imprisoned Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas, Spy Kids) watches as his captors dangle his black Zorro mask in front of him and he is told, "This belongs in a museum. So do you."
Those are lines ripped from another Steven Spielberg romp, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and they mark a turning point in the movie's action. Up to that scene, this latest Zorro episode had the mild adventure feel akin to the old Wonderful World of Disney Sunday night TV movies. Hot on the heels of that moment, though, this Zorro finally finds its soul and things rev into high gear.
As Zorro once again swashes and buckles across the screen, the overall appeal of this PG-rated snack is geared to families rather than teens and the "cinematically mature."
That more innocent approach stems from the storyline itself; a good portion of the antics involve Zorro's 10-year-old son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso in his first English-speaking role). He's proof positive that the apple never falls far from the tree.
It's 1850 and California is about to become, for better or worse, the 31st State. Getting the vibe that these United States are becoming a little too big for their britches, the radical political cult Orbis Unum seeks to derail the vote and gain the upper hand in dictating the country's future. Their nefarious plan seeks world domination using the ultimate lethal weapon: soap. Well, at least one of the by-products of their peculiarly strong soap bars; they hardly have eyes on making the world zestfully clean.
Since it is a Zorro movie, trying to make too literal a social commentary out of the plot is unwarranted, but the California chapter of Orbis Unum just so happens to be run by a Frenchman named Armand (Rufus Sewell, Dark City). Far from coincidentally, Armand went to finishing school with Alejandro's wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago), and he uses his wiles to steer her away from the man in black.
As circumstances collide and conspire, Elena files for divorce from Alejandro, which in turn makes Joaquin question his father's priorities and skills. At one point the boy criticizes his father, telling him "you've never been in a fight in your life." Alas, the lad is too young to know his father is the very same man he idolizes and emulates, the black-masked avenger named The Fox (OK, Zorro sounds better).
As with 1998's The Mask of Zorro, there's some witty dialogue between Alejandro and Elena as well as some good action pieces.
But, while the first installment played things in earnest and sported Anthony Hopkins as Zorro's mentor, this one on occasion succumbs to its cheesier instincts. The most embarrassing example is when the eyes of Zorro's horse, Tornado, bulge out at a particularly precarious situation. It's reminiscent of the computer-enhanced eyeballs of Hidalgo; it didn't work in that horsey epic and it doesn't fit in here.
Also sharing in Hidalgo's juvenile sense of horseplay, Tornado gets to smoke and drink in scenes that do a disservice to the legend of the horse and his owner.
Even so, The Legend of Zorro still carries more than a bit of the "hoot factor," earning its mild recommendation from the wattage of Zeta-Jones and Banderas, as well as a very good second half.
The movie also has a decently creepy bad buy in McGivens (Nick Chinlund, Training Day), a scruffy hooligan with wooden teeth and a cross-shaped scar on his right cheek. He goes around talking about doing the Lord's work. On the other hand, Father Felipe (Julio Oscar Mechoso, Jurassic Park III) knows when to eat, drink, be merry, and maybe even get a little whiplash from checking out the ladies at a festive soiree.
Perhaps in another 7 years Zorro will return again, next time with a rebellious teenage son and a horse in rehab. Zounds! The zany possibilities are amazing.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.