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Mask of Zorro

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mask of Zorro

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Martin Campbell
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: July 1998
Genres: Action, Romance

*Also starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Gitta Alpar, Maury Chaykin, Tony Amendola, Pedro Armendariz Jr.

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Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

Despite numerous vehicles designed to break him out of the fold, Antonio Banderas still remains right on the cusp of major Hollywood stardom. He came out with both guns blazing in _Desperado_, yet he didn't exactly blow away the box office; Rebecca DeMornay literally sunk her teeth into his naked ass in _Never_Talk_to_Strangers, but he himself came away with nothing to chew on; he rode Sylvester Stallone's fast-falling coattails in _Assassins_; no one cared to see how he and his current wife, Melanie Griffith, met on the job in _Two_Much_. Now, holding some momentum after his well-received supporting turn in _Evita_, Banderas has his best--and, perhaps, last--shot at Tinseltown superstardom, the rousing romantic adventure _The_Mask_of_Zorro_.

In a season and an age ruled by action films reliant on post-production effects, the barebones approach of an old fashioned swashbuckler is rather refreshing. As this update of Johnston McCulley's enduring character begins, the legendary masked, sword-wielding defender of the weak and oppressed is really one Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), aiding Mexico's independence effort against Spain. His double life is soon discovered by the evil Spanish governor Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), who kills de la Vega's wife Esperanza (Julietta Rosen), throws him in prison, and claims their infant daughter, Elena, as his own. Twenty years later, de la Vega escapes, at roughly the same time Montero returns from Spain to the now-independent Mexico with the grown Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in tow. Montero, of course, has a dirty scheme up his sleeve, and seeing that he is a bit long in the tooth to reassume the mask of Zorro, grooms young, scruffy, revenge-minded bandit Alejandro Murieta (Banderas) to take his place.

Naturally, this sets the stage for extended training sequences, which are far from anything new but made watchable by some funny repartee written by scripters John Eskow, Ted Elliot, and Terry Rossio; and the effortless mentor-student rapport between Hopkins and Banderas. Unlike some films, though, while Alejandro pretty much passes his training, he still does not perfect certain things (namely, horseback riding) which gives this fantasy some element of reality--and keeps the film from taking itself too seriously. It's this lighthearted, light-on-its-feet tone that makes _Zorro_ such agreeable entertainment. Director Martin Campbell delivers the goods in the many exciting swordfights throughout the movie, but he also displays a nice, breezy touch throughout, particularly in the scene that received the biggest crowd response: a cute and sexy swordplay-as-foreplay scene between Alejandro and Elena.

Although the Alejandro-Elena romance is somewhat underwritten, the pairing comes to life, thanks to palpable chemistry between Banderas and the breathtaking Zeta-Jones, who share a sensual dance scene midway through the film. Actually, Banderas heightens the energy level of every scene he's in. He has always been a charismatic screen presence, but he has never been quite so charmingly roguish and playful, which is perfectly suited to the character. Also well-cast is Hopkins, who appears to be having a ball taking on a more physical role for a change. Less effective, though, is the casting of the villains. Wilson is only slightly more menacing than the weak brand of villainy he leant _Lethal_Weapon_3_, and Matt Letscher, playing the military captain who killed Alejandro's brother (hence the new Zorro's thirst for vengeance), seems no match for the masked swordsman.

While _Armageddon_ and _Lethal_Weapon_4_ pummel moviegoers with mayhem (and quite effectively, at that), it's almost soothing to watch an action film as comparatively laid-back as _The_Mask_of_Zorro_. It is a fairly relaxed yet confident, competent entertainment, one that is not afraid to bypass a hard sell and allow its innate charms to elegantly seduce its audience.

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