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Movie Review

The Mask of Zorro

The Mask of Zorro
Antonio Banderas in "The Mask of Zorro"

Whole star Whole star
Rated PG-13 for moments of quite ghoulish violence. 2 hours, 16 minutes.
Publication date: Jul. 17, 1998
Review by Leonard Schwarz
Released: (1998)

As "The Mask of Zorro" quite accidentally demonstrates, there are two distinct advantages to an action movie set in the 19th century: no gratuitous motor vehicle chases and no deafening numskull-rock music. Unfortunately, a 19th century setting provides no defense against the other standard horror of summer blockbuster wannabes: a slavish devotion to violent action at the expense of character and narrative, coupled with a failure to stage the action in a way that allows the audience to follow it.

To be fair, "The Mask of Zorro" includes a wonderful chase on horseback and one rather witty duel. But for the most part, almost randomly do the bodies fly, the buildings explode and the horses careen through crowded streets. Even in most of the duels, the action is impossible to follow. While it's fun to watch Zorro swing across the room on a chandelier, it would be a lot more entertaining if we could see where he was and could understand why he was doing it.

On a more fundamental level "The Mask of Zorro" would be a lot more fun if it had a plot of any complexity, characters of any interest and emotions of any depth. But the story is nothing more than a cliche: An aging master must teach focus to a brash young pup who will then carry on the fight against the forces of evil. (How many times did the four writers whose names appear in the credits and the countless other "creatives" who had a hand in the film's development--among them, Steven Spielberg--have to watch "Star Wars" and "The Karate Kid" before they came up with this?) In Zorro '98, the master is a Spanish nobleman who conceals his identity with a mask when he does battle with the evil governor of Mexico, and his pupil is a bank robber whose good heart materializes as needed by the plot. Anthony Hopkins brings a touch of dignity to the former character, and Antonio Banderas brings energy and fits of charm to the latter. But both men appear to be more than a little embarrassed more than half the time. Well they should be.

If you want to see swashbuckling done right, see Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 version of "The Mark of Zorro". If you prefer a campier but equally entertaining take on wearing black tights and a mask, rent "Zorro, the Gay Blade," an underappreciated 1981 comedy with George Hamilton. But only if you want to see Zorro return to a hideout that looks remarkably like Batman's cave is there reason to see the current version.

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