Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Legend Of Zorro goes into Spy Kids territory

Time: 83 mins
Rating: * * 1/2

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WELL, whaddaya know! After successfully reviving The Mask Of Zorro in 1998, they have turned the franchise into a family act like Spy Kids! Instead of continuing the adventures of the lone masked champion of justice and freedom, this sequel has gone a few notches down the intellect level to pander to kids.

Okay, okay. I admit that the swashbuckling tales of El Zorro (or The Fox) had always been aimed at children. As a kid, I myself had donned the mask and cape, pretending to be Zorro. Then came Anthony Hopkins and the ‘new’ Zorro of 1998, which featured a more adult swashbuckler, and I had thought that we were going to get an updated and smarter version of the legend.

Well, this sequel, also directed by Martin Campbell, put paid to those hopes. By turning Zorro into a family movie with highly contrived sitcom situations and domestic squabbles, Campbell has taken the lustre off the romantic adventure. He may please the kids but he has lost the ‘magic’ and the ‘momentum’ of the first movie.

It is 1850 and California is poised to hold a referendum to become the 31st state of the Union.
Of course, some land barons are plotting against the union, seizing ballot boxes and bullying the people. And in rides Zorro to save the day! But wait. What about the next day?

Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) is now married to the beautiful Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and they have a 10-year-old son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). Alejandro has broken his promise to his wife not take off as Zorro again — and she has filed for divorce.

Meanwhile, a wealthy French land owner named Armand (Rufus Sewell) is courting Elena — and she seems to be falling for his charms. And if this is not enough to drive our hero to drink and despair, there is also the problem of his son despising him for not doing anything against Armand’s thugs when they bully the farmers. The boy does not know his dad’s alter ego.

On the drawing board, this may sound like fun but when they throw in far-fetched twists and a subplot about the Ancient Knights of Aragon, the movie goes from comic book territory into silly kids’ stuff. Consider Zorro’s horse that drinks and smokes — and can outrun a runaway train and land smack on its roof!
And imagine the boy helping to spring his old man out of prison...

To be sure, there are nice comic touches in the ‘squabbles’ between Banderas and Zeta-Jones and it is nice to see them reprise their roles. Young Alonso is cute too and sometimes steal the show.
But I wish this sequel had continued the legend on a more matured level.


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