Mediocre marks for 'Zorro' Review: Fun but far too long, colorful 'Zorro' should have tightened the buckles on its swash.

July 17, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"The Mask of Zorro" will make filmgoers pine for the days of the Saturday matinee serial, not only because it re-creates so many classic action stunts and picturesque cliff-hangers, but because, at two and a half hours, it begs to be sliced up into little pieces.

If "The Mask of Zorro" were 45 minutes shorter, it would be an unqualified must-see this summer.

There's plenty right with "The Mask of Zorro," which amply lives up to the "Zorro" legacy established by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Tyrone Power in the "Mark of Zorro" films. There are lots of fight scenes that show off lively, flashing swordplay, and there's a very smart -- albeit uncooperative -- horse that provides opportunities for lavish stunts and terrific comedy. And although "The Mask of Zorro" is blessed with an attractive and colorful design, it bears a rather cheap, slapdash look that amplifies its B-movie roots and charm.

What's wrong with "The Mask of Zorro" is more complicated. Anthony Hopkins is dashing, if not entirely believable, as Don Diego de la Vega, a k a "Zorro," the legendary swordsman who avenges the people of Mexico against their Spanish colonizers. Although Hopkins clearly has the elan and physical presence to carry off the masked hero, an early sequence in which Sir Tony prances from rooftop to rooftop like a manic gazelle begs credulity.

As Alejandro Murrieta, whom Zorro trains to carry on his life's work, Antonio Banderas only fully comes into his own late in the picture, after he has been relieved of wads of hair and an irritating goatee. Note to directors everywhere: Never cover up Antonio Banderas' face, and if you must use a mask, for goodness' sake eschew facial hair.

For all that impedes him, Banderas still smolders when courting the heart-stopping Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), daughter of de Vega's sworn enemy. Sparks fly when the two engage in a sizzling tango and an impromptu sword fight turns into a literal bodice-ripper.

Director Martin Campbell doesn't bring much in the way of visual style to "Zorro," although production designer Cecilia Montiel does a gorgeous job of evoking 19th-century California and de la Vega's posh underground lair. James Horner has composed another dramatic score for the movie -- although he owes Carter Burwell for the lick he stole from the "Miller's Crossing" score.

For all of its self-deprecating humor -- especially on the part of Murrieta, to whom Banderas lends just the right air of arrogance and bumbling likability -- "The Mask of Zorro" still seems much too ponderous, a problem that might have been solved by some tough editing and fewer explosions at the end.

Among the debates "The Mask of Zorro" will surely spark is how Capt. Harrison Love (Matt Letscher, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Michael Stipe dressed as George Custer) could find hair mousse in colonial California.

Still, there's something appealing about Captain Love's impossibly puffy hair -- it adds to the movie's unstudied, pulpy fun. A good-hearted return to cinematic days of yore, "The Mask of Zorro" provides a midsummer dash of swashbuckling, if bloated, fun.

'The Mask of Zorro'

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Directed by Martin Campbell

Released by Tristar Pictures

Rated PG-13 (some intense action and violence)

Running time 136 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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