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Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Legend of Zorro

It's a good thing I didn't have a whip with me when I went to see The Legend of Zorro this week at the Essex Outlet Cinemas or I would have been tempted to lasso one of the light fixtures in the lobby and swing across the room to rescue manager Karen Chapman from her duties behind the concession stand. Apparently everyone in the Champlain Valley chose Veterans' Day to go to the movies and it was a madhouse of activity on Friday afternoon at the Essex Outlet Cinemas. I'd always heard it said that James Brown was "the hardest working man in show business". Well, if that is true, then Karen is the hardest working woman in show business. She was taking tickets, filling food and drink orders and answering the phones single-handed. I have no idea where the rest of the staff was, and Karen was way too busy to answer questions, but I guarantee you there are usually any number of wonderful bright and entertaining people to serve customers, so this was definitely a very rare situation. If I'd known how to work the cash register I'd have offered to jump behind the counter and help out, but I'd have probably turned things into an "I Love Lucy" episode instead of being of much assistance, and, besides, then I would have missed seeing The Legend of Zorro.

You probably already know that The Legend of Zorro is a sequel to 1998's The Mask of Zorro, but you absolutely don't have to have seen the first to enjoy this one. I saw the original, but, to be honest, I have the memory of, well, of a clam so I barely remember anything about it except that it was a rip-roaring funfest starring that tasty Spanish treat Antonio Banderas as Don Alejandro de la Vega and the scrumptious Welsh rarebit Catherine Zeta-Jones as his wife Elena. Joining the cast for this outing is Adrian Alonso as their cute-as-a-button son Joaquin. Alonso is a now eleven-year-old actor from Mexico who had to learn English for this role, and he, frankly, should be arrested for grand theft. He steals this movie away from the main stars in every scene he's in. This kid is phenomenal in capturing the perfect mannerisms of Banderas' de le Vega as well as his alter-ego Zorro. My only complaint is in the script's weak premise that Joaquin is not smart enough to recognize that his hero, the masked avenger for the people of California Territory, is also his father. Even after being rescued by the bad guys and carried to safety by Zorro, lectured by Zorro, and hugged by Zorro, little Joaquin, who up until now has been as smart as the sting of Zorro's whip, still can't grasp that the man whose eyes alone are covered by a thin piece of black cloth is his own beloved Papa.

I guess it is a bit silly to nitpick over that if you are to suspend belief over the general "reality" of any this or any superhero movie. Yep, The Legend of Zorro may take place in 1850, but Zorro is really just Batman for another generation (probably your great, great, great grandfather's). The first fifteen minutes of the film alone establish him as a hero of epic proportions. His first fight for justice includes horseback stunts, swinging from an unfinished bridge while fighting half a dozen men, fist fighting an countless mob, seemingly "flying" from building to building, scaling walls in a second, crowds cheering, guns blazing (but never from Zorro of course), astounding acrobatics (always from Zorro of course) and lots of his requisite swordplay. I seldom find myself catching my breath during a movie, but I actually did hold my breath during a few amazing stunts that were like nothing I had ever seen before in any action flick.

The plot itself is both simple and convoluted. A grizzled outlaw named Jacob McGivins (played to utmost "Yosemite Sam" varmint nastiness by Nick Chinlund) and his gang of equally icky and never-bathed slithering sidekicks are terrorizing the countryside and doing all that they can do to stop the residents of California Territory from successfully voting themselves into the Union and becoming one of the United States. At the same time they are threatening the locals and stealing the deeds to their lands, and meanwhile stockpiling blackmarket shipments of soap. Soap? An oddity considering none of the men have seen a bathtub in years, but, in due time de la Vega, or rather Zorro, and Elena will uncover a nefarious plan in which McGivins is only a pawn in the larger picture and the secrets to the soaps are revealed.

Unfortunately for Alejandro, during his initial struggle with McGivins' men, his mask was briefly removed and he was spotted by two odd men on the outskirts of the battle. They soon began tracking Mrs. de la Vega, and after receiving a terrific butt-kicking by the delicious Zeta-Jones (in full petticoats yet), she divorces Alejandro and takes up with an old friend from finishing school in Europe, the newly relocated Armand, played for all his handsome goodness by British actor Rufus Sewell as a French aristocrat. Does it take a rocket scientist for anyone to realize that the new guy in the valley, the one with all the money, the one who wants to kill Zorro, and who wants to marry Elena, has got to be up to no good?

Armand, naturally, is part of a bizarre plot usually found on old episodes of "The Avengers" and by the end history is a bit reconstructed to have us believe that schoolboy Joaquin is responsible for saving Abraham Lincoln's life (at least for 15 years and a few theatrical performances more), Zorro has made it possible single-handedly for California to become one of the United States, and Catherine Zeta-Jones can do a Spanish accent almost better than Málaga born Banderas.

Still, the fun is in the journey, and the sweeping bravado of seeing Zorro and his trusty steed leap onto a the top of a moving train in pursuit of his kidnapped Elena and Joaquin, the clever moments of discovering Zorro's own version of the "Batcave" hidden behind the stained-glass window inside the local church, and the Mad magazine-like slinking around of Alejandro and Elena playing Spy vs Spy on the ledges outside Armando's hacienda bring laughs as well as thrills reminiscent of the adrenilin rarely seen outside of an Indiana Jones adventure.

I say hop on your horse and giddy-on-up to the Essex Outlet Cinemas in a hurry. The Legend of Zorro has been playing for a while now, and with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well as Walk the Line on their way I'm afraid Zorro will be gone to make room for the holiday blockbusters soon.

It would be a Zhame to miZZ it!

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