Legend of Zorro, The

As far as sequels go, "The Legend of Zorro" is a rather bad and unnecessary one. Though using the same stars, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the film is not only plotless but charmless too, the kind of sequel that only young children and indiscriminating viewers may like.

Created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley for his novel, "The Curse of Capistrano," Zorro is considered to be the first masked hero in modern American fiction. The filmmakers take pride in the fact that Zorro is a flesh-and-blood hero, not a digital character, like many of today's comic strip super-heroes. Yet, as written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, directed by Martin Campbell, and played by Banderas, this Zorro might as well have been a CGI creatures, for he certainly lacks the charisma and stamina of a swashbuckling Robin Hood-like type of a hero, a man of the people protecting the common man. Lack of special superhuman powers would have been impressive, if Zorro made better use of his gadgets (a sword and a whip), not to speak of his wits, in a more imaginative way rather than the banal version that we get .

The first film was fun to watch due to chemistry between the leads and novelty of concept. Its spark, which generated $250 million at the box-office, had a special appeal internationally. However, likely to be panned by critics, it's doubtful that the sequel will yield such heat in the U.S. or abroad.

In the new film, which is set a decade after the conclusion of "The Mark of Zorro," Alejandro (Banderas) and Elena (Zeta-Jones) are married and have a young son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). The central premise is as generic as they come. Though Alejandro continues to don the mask of Zorro to protect the poor and oppressed residents of the California territory from the greed of the overlords, he is torn between his duty and his desire for a more stable and normal life.

The year is 1850, when the territory of California is seeking to become the thirty-first state of the union, but certain unscrupulous individuals, members of a mysterious medieval organization, are determined to prevent this event from happening. Once again, the masked Zorro must come to the aid of the people of California so they can become citizens of the U.S.A.

At the same time, a corrupt robber baron, McGivens (Nick Chinlund), is intimidating the law-abiding residents of California, seizing their land threatening their livelihood. Meanwhile, Joquin misses his father, who's rarely at home, wishing that he behaved more like the idealized Zorro, having no idea that the two men are the same.

Early one, Elena forces Alejandro to choose between his family role and his crusading alter ego. But alas their bickering and fighting scenes are a pale imitation of "The Taming of the Shrew" and other witty comedies about marriages on the rocks. When an unexpected crisis forces Alejandro to again don the mask of Zorro, Elena feels betrayed and kicks him out of the house. Soon after, she serves him with divorce papers.

Though nominally the film belongs to the classic Hollywood screwball comedy of remarriage, it will be unfair and denigrating for those chestnuts ("The Philadelphia Story," "The Awful Truth") to be lumped together with such an amateurish and cheesy effort as "Legend of Zorro."

The filmmakers must have realized how bland and the central conflict is, for they quickly introduce a third character, Armand (Rufus Sewell), a French aristocrat and former schoolmate of Elena's, who moves to California to start a new winery. Thrilled to discover that Elena has separated from her husband, he begin to woo her, while at the same time attending to his duties as the head of the Knights of Aragon, a secret ancient fraternity.

It might have been a mistake to marry the protagonists off at the end of the last movie, for the marital strife is not particularly interesting to watch, and the whole romantic triangle doesn't really work, because, as weak as Banderas and his character are, they easily overwhelm the third wheel, Armand.

The separation of the protagonists is not fortuitous for a movie that bills itself as an adventure, because the future of the marriage is so predictable and inevitable that you don't care about the obstacles that both partners need to overcome in order to be reunited.

In the press notes, director Campbel says: "The production was one of those rare occasions when everybody was in agreement about what were doing, and all of us shared in the excitement. We literally shot the final draft of the script, with very few alterations, and that's a rare thing in movies."

May I propose that in its current shapeless form, "The Legend of Zorro" still feels like a draft of a screenplay, rushed into production in order to cash in on the success of the first film.