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2014 | 2000 | 1998

1 item from 1998

Film review: 'The Mask of Zorro'

26 June 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Zzzzzzzz is for "Zorro".

Swashbuckling, slapstick, nostalgia, romance -- all set against a political backdrop. Amblin Entertainment's "The Mask of Zorro" has it all, including two Zorros, but its ambition and clear desire to please at all levels ultimately sticks itself.

Sony will undoubtedly fence solid early points with this men-in-black popcorner, but there is, alas, more corn than pop in this return to the thrilling days of legendary heroism, not to mention 1950s television.

Although pleasingly entertaining in segments, it's way too stiff and predictable for adult audiences and, perhaps, way too slow (not to mention gory) for the elementary-school set. Remember whose movie it was that launched the PG-13 rating? Save for those second-graders who yearn for a painstakingly exhaustive portrait of the harsh political realities of a past day and age, it's unlikely to win the hearts of grade schoolers. The moviegoing demographic "Zorro"'s most likely to please? The child-adult.

In this disappointingly cumbersome TriStar presentation, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas limn the role of the latter-day swordsman who fought Spanish oppression in what is now known as California. In case you're wondering and confused, Hopkins plays Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro, the dashing rogue we all loved from the late '50s TV show, while Banderas is his new protege and successor. Those who relished Hopkins' thrashing, outdoorsman performance in his Bart the Bear movie (we can't recall the title) will relish, in the same vein, his sword-fighting.

As Zorro Emeritus, Hopkins not only imparts the wisdom of his dueling to his newly anointed successor but enhances it with the stentorian solemnity one usually finds only in the House of Commons.

We must, however, commend Hopkins' bravery in attacking the part; unfortunately, it's unlikely that kid viewers might be so charitable, especially since old Zorro's duels take up big swatches of the crucial climax. Indeed, indicative of our wandering attention when elder Zorro is either waxing or dueling away, we tend to look around for John Gielgud to jump in with sharpened blade and enter the fray.

Two words for the narrative: The kind word is "ambitious"; the nasty word is "mess." Suffice it to say there are three credited screenwriters as well as three credited story writers, and "The Mask of Zorro" basks in what appears to be a legal-sized list of "must" suggestions from an assembled story committee.

Fortunately, there's a lot of good stuff, including the mentor-fighter aspects of "The Karate Kid", but unfortunately "Zorro" is so packed with back story and historical exposition and so murkily plotted that one never really finds anyone to root for, including Zorro.

Although Zorro is charming, dashing and wears a zippy costume, we're never quite sure what he's in it for -- revenge, idealism, love of a lady, kicks? Admittedly, it's explained somewhere, but it's done in such a clinical, dry way that Zorro never captures our fancy or our fantasies. We never really root for him, other than in a passive good-guy vs. bad-guy mode. Still, "Zorro" is chock middling full with good old, matinee-movie moments: jumping on speeding horses from windows, swinging from chandeliers, flirting with beautiful women.

As the younger Zorro, Banderas is well-cast. His gleaming smile and elegant athleticism are well-suited for the character's glossy heroics. Newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones steals the show whenever she is on the screen: As Zorro 1's long-lost daughter, she's a comely catch and, natch, causes Zorro the Sequel to drop his swords. However, crankier boomers who loved the TV show and destroyed lots of furniture with their plastic, Piggly Wiggly-bought Zorro swords are going to wonder: Where's Sgt. Garcia, the great slapstick buffoon of the TV series?

Gazing at the credits, we see a Corp. Garcia. Maybe it was the same character before he got his comic stripes. In any event, that's the kind of crabby word-of-mouth "Zorro" is likely to cut among us old folks. Supporting players seem to be well-chosen, but under Martin Campbell's competent but painstakingly measured hand, the supporting characters are not very juicy, just common flavorings.

As one would expect from Amblin, the technical contributions are first-rate and stirringly realized. Cinematographer Phil Meheux's landscape compositions are picture-postcard proper, while costumer Graciela Mazon's clothing colorations bloom with character particulars. Composer James Horner's rousing horns give a thrilling, old-style tone to the movie, eloquently trumpeting its best intentions and traditions.


Sony Pictures Releasing

TriStar Pictures

An Amblin Entertainment production

Producers: Doug Claybourne, David Foster

Director: Martin Campbell

Screenwriters: John Eskow,

Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Story: Ted Elliott,

Terry Rossio, Randall Jahnson

Executive producers: Steven Spielberg,

Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald

Director of photography: Phil Meheux

Production designer: Cecilia Montiel

Editor: Thom Noble

Costume designer: Graciela Mazon

Music: James Horner

Co-producer: John Gertz

Casting: Pam Dixon Mickelson



Alejandro Murieta/Zorro: Antonio Banderas

Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro: Anthony Hopkins

Elena Montero: Catherine Zeta-Jones

Dan Rafael Montero: Stuart Wilson

Capt. Harrison Love: Matt Letscher

Running time -- 136 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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