Two feelings jockey for position at the end of The Legend of Zorro: Boy, was that dopey, and boy, was it fun.
The winner may depend on one's tolerance for things that don't make sense but look good.
In this sequel to 1998's The Mask of Zorro, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones return, and their chemistry is intact. Unfortunately, the originality of the first is missing.
Perhaps originality is not the right word. As a character, Zorro has been around since 1919 when Johnston McCulley created him for his novel The Curse of Capistrano. There have been numerous movies, as well as a TV series, featuring Zorro.
But the 1998 movie took the character in a new direction, with the old Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) training his replacement (Banderas). The action was accompanied by quite a bit of banter and a sense of fun, and it became a blockbuster.
In The Legend of Zorro, director Martin Campbell and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman avoid one of the pitfalls of making a sequel to a successful movie: They don't take themselves too seriously. But they go too far the other way. If action and repartee were good for the first film, they seem to reason, even more will be better for the second.
Thus, The Legend of Zorro oozes action and wisecracks, and instead of the steadying presence of Hopkins, whose character died in Mask, the filmmakers have added a wisecracking kid, Adrian Alonso, who plays Joaquin, the son of Don Alejandro de la Vega and his wife, Elena (Banderas and Zeta-Jones).
Joaquin is fun at first, but the story's dependence on the lad threatens to turn this outing into Spy Kids Go to the Old West. That's partly because there's not a shred of credibility to the role. Not knowing about his father's alter ego, Joaquin views him as a boring and stodgy workaholic, but the boy has all of Zorro's trademark gymnastic abilities. So who taught him the moves and why, if Dad's not around?
The Legend of Zorro takes place about a decade after Mask. California is on the verge of statehood, which doesn't please various prominent land barons and politicians, so Zorro is busier than ever, protecting the rights of the little people.
This doesn't leave him much time to be Don Alejandro. This infuriates Elena, who thought they had an agreement that Alejandro would give up his alter ego.
"But the people need Zorro," he says, plaintively.
"No, you need Zorro," she says accusingly, implying that Alejandro's ego would take a hit if he put away Zorro's mask and whip.
An angry Elena files for divorce and takes up with a smarmy Frenchman, Armand (Rufus Sewell), who has come to California to make wine, and Alejandro loses himself in the bottle, much to the disgust of his son.
But before Zorro saves the day and Alejandro and Elena get back together (anyone who didn't see this coming doesn't go to movies much) the audience gets to watch scenes borrowed directly from Cat Ballou, the Indiana Jones films, and A Knight's Tale.
Much of the dopey fun part of The Legend of Zorro comes in spotting the ludicrous plot elements. Who knew there was no-fault divorce among Catholics in 1850? Who knew Abraham Lincoln attended the ceremonies turning California into a state? Who knew that you could bottle tasty wine about half a minute after arriving in wine country?
The Legend of Zorro isn't as good as it could have been, if the writers had taken a little more care, but it provides enough swordplay and snappy dialogue to tide audiences over until the next Pirates of the Caribbean comes out.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org