The Mask of Zorro

1998, PG, 138 min. Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Maury Chaykin, Tony Amendola, Pedro Armendariz, L.q. Jones.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 17, 1998

Theoretically, if you take into account some of Einstein's more esoteric theorems (parallel universes and all that), the tale of Zorro has already been filmed several thousand times over. Or maybe it just seems that way. First commited to pulp paper in 1919 by Johnston McCulley, the roguish character paved the way for Bruce Wayne and his ilk before dropping out of sight for a while in the mid-Seventies (1981's George Hamilton vehicle -- Zorro, the Gay Blade -- is notable only as a cultural comic anomaly, I believe). Regardless of what has come before, however, Campbell's new offering is a pleasantly vicarious slice of summertime falderol, innocuous in its presentation and often genuinely fun. It has the sexy, histrionic vibe of those old Republic serials updated for the Nineties, and would make a terrific double bill with Disney's vastly underrated The Rocketeer. Both films gaze back longingly to the daze of classic Hollywood heroics, and even Errol Flynn would have to admit that Banderas cuts a dashing figure as the revamped Zorro. Campbell, who directed the immensely entertaining Goldeneye, has an eye for outrageous action scenes and cliffhanger plotting; his directorial style has as much panache as the larger-than-life characters he works with, and his riotous sense of story serves him well. The Mask of Zorro begins with the fall of Zorro/Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins, looking remarkably trim and fit and decidedly removed from Hannibal Lecter mode), as the evil Don Rafael Montero (Wilson) discovers his true identity, murders his beloved wife Esperanza (Julietta Rosen), takes the nobleman's infant daughter Elena (Zeta-Jones) as his own, and tosses the avenging swordsman in the dungeon. Twenty years later, de la Vega makes his escape, hooks up with vendetta-happy peasant Alejandro Murietta (Banderas), whose brother was murdered by one of Montero's henchmen, and embarks on the resurrection of Zorro, the people's hero, by patiently teaching the headstrong Murietta everything he knows about fighting, fencing, and, of course, females. Zorro, after all, is nothing if not romantic. As befits its serial pedigree, this new chapter in the Book of Zorro is rife with inspired, edge-of-your-seat plotting, betrayals, treachery, love, lust, masterfully staged swordplay, and many, many shots of the masked avenger rearing up on his trusty mount, silhouetted against the crimson Alta, California sky where the story is set. God knows it's hokum of the purest stripe, but Campbell, Hopkins, Banderas, and especially the alarmingly vivacious Zeta-Jones pull it off in spades. A popcorn movie of the highest order, it's full of garish, silly fun, extreme heat escapism, and nary a Bruce Willis in sight.

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The Mask of Zorro, Martin Campbell, Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Maury Chaykin, Tony Amendola, Pedro Armendariz, L.q. Jones

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