Being smarter than the average cinema-goer, you’re not really expecting this Joaquin-come-lately sequel to be as good as 1998’s gloriously enjoyable The Mask Of Zorro, are you? No? Good. However, even when you factor in the universal law of Diminishing Sequel Quality, you’re still going to be shocked by the preening, smug, slapsticky mess that is The Legend Of Zorro.
The producers have clearly decided that what made the first film fly wasn’t the half-dozen blinding action sequences, the “Quick, fetch them a cold shower!” relationship between Banderas and Zeta-Jones or even the gentle lyricism of Anthony Hopkins’ towering turn as an ageing hero. Nope. Apparently, what really made the first movie fly was... the comedy.
Okay, so The Mask Of Zorro was funny in places, but the comic moments were there to counterpoint the action, not undercut it. Here, the humour slices the legs from beneath any excitement whatsoever. To generate thrills, a movie needs you to buy into the idea that the characters themselves think they’re in peril. When Zorro is too busy gawping at drunken horses and gurning painfully at the antics of his cute kid, then who cares how well choreographed the swordfights are? They end up being about as exciting as a primary school dance recital.
With the action scuppered by the drift to kookiness, you’d at least hope that the end result was, well, funny. But The Legend Of Zorro manages to shred even that get-out-of-jail-free card. Banderas knows how to pace a one-liner and handle a double-take (though even he begins to look desperate at the third kerazee geegee moment), but Zeta-Jones couldn’t find funny if you stuck it on the exposed arse of a Hollywood millionaire.
In a supporting role, she might have been tolerable, but given equal screentime with Banderas, in a plot that sees her divorcing him so she can cosy up to a blatantly evil French nobleman (Sewell), she has nowhere to hide. All wide-eyed hamming and stagey clunkiness, she terminally unbalances an already tottering movie with a performance that would shame a Carry On film.
So, surely that’s enough to stop any of you bothering with this mess? No need to harp on about the ineptness of the Wild West 007 plot (complete with evil villain’s lair and oriental henchman)? Or the annoying historical, cultural and logical inconsistencies? Or the abysmal attempt to bolt-on a 9/11 reference? Or the teethgrindingly irritating presence of the “cute kid”? Thought not.