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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005 12:58 am

Slicing and dicing needed

Zorro sequel suffers from a ponderous, plodding plot

The action scenes — fancy swordfights and footwork — are dazzling but hardly enough to overcome the plodding, ponderous story that unfolds in The Legend of Zorro. Running more than two hours, this sequel to 1998’s The Mask of Zorro spends far too much time laying out its ridiculous story and far too little doing what Martin Campbell, who also directed Mask, and his cast do so well. If you’re going to use a story as shoddy as this one, you’d better be able to distract us with a series of well-done action sequences. Unfortunately, Campbell is about three sequences short here.
After seeing Zorro (Antonio Banderas) lose his mask, two mysterious men approach our hero’s wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), with a proposition. Although she has asked her husband to hang up his cape and mask to spend more time with her and their son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso) — something Zorro is reluctant to do — he is stunned when she files for divorce, leaves him, and ends up in the arms of old school chum Armand (Rufus Sewell), a French count who has relocated to Southern California to start a huge vineyard. We are kept in the dark for far too long about why Elena is getting so close to Armand and what his ultimate goal is. Even after Armand’s scheme is revealed, its purpose remains murky, which is frustrating, given that so much time was wasted on it. Campbell wanted to make a more family-friendly film than the first, and he succeeds in that regard. Banderas and Zeta-Jones heat up the screen whenever they are together, but they also shine as parents. Alonso, as their son, is a welcome addition, an enthusiastic performer who brings a fierce energy to the role that’s fun to watch. He makes you believe that he can, and will, follow in his father’s footsteps, and the scenes in which Zorro, Elena, and son go into battle are great fun. The prospect of a series of films revolving around the de la Vega clan is not an unpleasant one. If Campbell and his crew were to focus on the personalities and snappy fights instead of inane conspiracies, Zorro and his family could bring a welcome-brand of old-fashioned fun to the screen for years to come.

Also in theaters this week. . .

Prime [PG-13] A robbing-the-cradle romance between Rafi, an established 37-year-old career woman and David, a 23-year-old painter from Brooklyn. ShowPlace West

Saw II [R] The gruesome return of The Jigsaw Killer, and in the second installment the stakes are just as high when Jigsaw locks a group of people in a room where lethal nerve gas is slowly leaking in. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Stay [R] A thriller chronicling a college professor’s struggle to bring his student back from the depths of suicidal depression and a world between life and death. ShowPlace West

The Weather Man [R] A troubled Chicago weather man tries to hold it together at the height of his broadcasting career despite his plummeting personal life. Parkway Pointe
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