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   THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998) 

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CAST
Antonio Banderas
Anthony Hopkins
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Stuart Wilson
Tony Amendola
Matt Letscher
William Marquez
Victor Rivers
Jose Perez

DIRECTED BY
Martin Campbell

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 98 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing.


A summer, action trifle that makes one yearn for the seriousness of Fall. THE MASK OF ZORRO isn't the worst film to be released during the blockbuster season. In fact, it's better than it has a right to be thanks to the talent of its four leading actors. With a lesser group of actors, the dialogue would be even more appalling and ridiculous. A decently plotted, if not exactly original story keeps the action moving and fairly entertaining. It's obvious a great deal of effort went into revamping this classic Hollywood tale of a masked Robin Hood-type avenger. Banderas is the perfect actor to tackle the role of sexy swashbuckler. He has just the right mixture of danger, attractiveness and righteousness to make this character work. His presence is definitely one of the best things about the movie.

The other aspects of the movie that work well are the action sequences and swordplay. They exceeded my expectations. The choreography is inventive and fun. The actors obviously trained long and hard on how to convincingly brandish their weapons. It's too bad their one liners aren't as cutting as the flesh wounds they leave all over one another. The action gives the old-fashioned plot a modern flair without much overt violence. Though many people die, most of the bloodshed happens offscreen. This keeps the tone light and frothy. The fight sequences are infused with so much energy, you find yourself lulled into this fantasy world where everyone dresses well and knows how to brandish a sword.

The story is a simple one of revenge, with a little romance thrown in to keep it from being too serious. The film opens with Hopkins playing Zorro/Don Diego de la Vega rescuing some Mexican peasants with great flair from a Spanish firing squad. His archenemy, Governor Don Rafael Montero (Wilson) looks on with great hatred as he prepares to leave Mexico in exile. Before he leaves he captures de la Vega/Zorro, but ends up killing the woman he loves in the process, Diego's wife Esperanza. To get back at Diego for "stealing" his woman (though she never wanted him), Montero kidnaps Diego's daughter Elena, taking her back to Spain, and leaves Diego a penniless prisoner.


"That man is trained to fight. You on the other hand, seem trained to drink."

Cut to twenty years later and Montero's return to Mexico with the grown-up Elena, played by Zeta-Jones. Antonio Banderas, a young thief named Alejandro, is intent on his own mission of revenge. He means to avenge his brother's senseless murder at the hands of Captain Love, a lackey of Montero. Instead of letting the boy join his brother in death, Don Diego stops him and offers to train him in the ways of Zorro so he can settle his score with honor. The training scenes between Hopkins and Banderas are quite amusing, due mainly to Banderas' willingness to look foolish. Hopkins plays the elder Zorro with the right amount of exasperation and confidence. Both actors seem to be enjoying themselves and it gives the scenes a sense of energy and fun, lacking in the rest of the enterprise.

With Don Diego's help, Alejandro infiltrates the high society world of Montero and captures the heart of Elena. The lack of surprise at their romance does nothing to ruin the chemistry between these two extremely attractive people. Banderas and Zeta Jones are a treat for the eyes. They are wonderfully playful in a sexy, but PG-13 kind of way. This is family fare after all. In her first major role, Jones holds her own against the brimming testosterone, giving Elena 90s strength while still allowing her to be feminine. The romance fills the story out, though is not the main thrust of the film. Revenge may not be the best basis for a plot, but it serves to create a division between the good guys and the bad guys that's clean and simple.

Everyone loves a character they can hate. Wilson fits the bill to a tee here. Smug, arrogant and unfeeling, you want nothing more than for him to bite the big one. In the end, his plans are exposed and justice is served. Nothing about the final confrontation is a surprise, but the sequence is done quite well, even if it is terribly hokey. Banderas and Jones make a great couple and when the film is over you actually hope to see them swash buckle their way onscreen again. If they do, I can only hope they'll spend as much time on the story as they do on the action. THE MASK OF ZORRO is a fairly mundane adventure made watchable through great style and intense charisma. A must see for fans of Banderas or Jones.



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