The Legend of Zorro

Opens Fri., Oct. 28, at Metro and others.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas never had a better day than in 1998, when The Mask of Zorro made their names (and about a quarter-billion dollars). People were asking, "Who is that Welsh beauty? She moves like a whip crack!" Things are different now. As Marilyn Monroe observed, "Gravity gets us all in the end." Watching their reunion, you think, "Hmm, Catherine's not quite as fat as she was in Traffic and Chicago, but she sure doesn't move like she used to. And Antonio's chiseled chin seems to be casting a shadow of incipient blubber."

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of pleasant horseplay. Zorro's trusty mount, Tornado, nimbly leaps into moving trains like a whinnying Errol Flynn. Zorro's whip still wraps around stuff so he can swing like a daring man on the flying trapeze. Just not a daring young man on a flying trapeze. In an interview, Zeta-Jones complained about having to do her derring-do scenes (sword fights, chases, acrobatics) weighed down by a straitjacket corset, three petticoats, a bulky dress, and high boots. That's how the movie feels, too: burdened by overelaborate costumes, overembroidered plot, and plain old middle age.

Mr. and Mrs. Zorro now have an adorably feisty slingshot marksman of a 10-year-old son (Adrian Alonso), a Dennis the Menace with Dondi's black-button eyes. They quarrel: She wants her husband to give up the Zorro work so she can live like a hacienda Scarlett O'Hara. But the California territory is about to become the 31st state, and bad white guys with bad teeth are oppressing the upstanding Hispanic natives.

These racist oppressors, so generic that one is identified in the credits as Sneering Man, serve an axis of evil: Southern generals and a French aristocrat (Rufus Sewell), who are plotting to import a new weapon of mass destruction, nitroglycerin, so the South can win the Civil War and destroy democracy. (The subtext here is Sam Peckinpah meets Karl Rove.) Thus Zorro and Mrs. Z spring into action, though pursuing different paths.

If you trimmed away yards of fabric, boring dance scenes, and clunky exposition, the dandy action scenes would be infinitely more fun. Zeta-Jones and Banderas are as campy as drag queens, but they show remnants of their erstwhile chemistry. There's just a dollop of Spy Kids appeal when all three Zorro family members team up to kick gringo butt aboard a runaway train. But too much of this movie chugs too slowly over familiar terrain. (PG)

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