The Legend of Zorro
by Amy Diaz
Antonio Banderas swashbuckles through California as it verges on
statehood in the shiny but limp The Legend of Zorro.
like Zorro — he’s Batman with less angst and more salsa. And, depending
on which version of the story you’ve seen or read before, Zorro’s
exploits take place in a colonial/frontier California that looks not
unlike the California of today with its mix of ethnicities and its
Spanish-flavored culture. It’s a land of plenty where the rich and
powerful threaten to enslave (economically at least) a farmer class of
Mexicans. And serving as protector to these people is one of their own
(sort of), a Latino avenger keeping California just. Heady stuff and a
story tailor-made for the burgeoning middle class of the new
majority-minority all over the American Southwest.
can’t wait to see somebody do this story right. Unfortunately, it looks
like I will have to wait a little longer.
Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) has carried on the Zorro duties
lo these 10 years since the original The Mask of Zorro (10 years in
movie time; 1998 was that movie’s actual release date). He and feisty
damsel Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of that film have found some
domestic bliss on their central coast ranch where they raise their
scrappy son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). But the bliss is actually not so
blissful — Elena mopes that Alejandro works too much, Zorro-wise, and
that she’d like to do some traveling already. Alejandro (who shows off
all of Banderas’ wrinkles and wear) wants to continue playing the hero
as long as he can and stomps out of the hacienda like a teenager who’s
been threatened with grounding. For the movie’s
leftover-but-still-half-baked plot to work, Mom and Dad have to take
some time apart, during which Elena appears to take up with a serpentine
Frenchman named Armand (Rufus Sewell). At best, Armand is something of a
dandy who wants Elena as a trophy and wants Alejandro out of his
family’s life. But he shows shades of darker intentions, making
Alejandro’s attempts to unmask him vital not only to his family’s future
but to the future of the state and continental America.
Swords cross, ye olde rifles are fired inaccurately, horses are ridden
on the tops of trains and Zeta-Jones gets to James Bond a bit herself in
some really swell period costumes. Less a movie and more an amusement
park of thrills and attractions, The Legend of Zorro doesn’t try too
hard to keep its plot coherent or its dialogue believable. It’s all
about moving you from one ride (The Scene Where Joaquin Shows Off His
Junior Zorro Skills) to the next (Elena’s Wacky Attempts to Search a
Mansion). We don’t get even the popcorn-movie nods to subtext that made
the first movie such an action-adventure treat.
Legend of Zorro is a sleepy attempt at creating a franchise — better the
current keepers of the Zorro mythology find a new, young crusader and
create an exciting new franchise for a growing market.
Blood flows like spiked punch at an office Halloween party in the
goretacular sequel Saw II.
And, much like an office Halloween party, Saw II has the unsettling
feeling of work masquerading as fun. Sure, the memo said “Have a spooky
good time!” but the rumor around the office is that the HR guy will be
there to explain the cuts in your health benefits.
II starts out with one of its self-mutilation-based eeeews — a young man
can get the key to unlock the timer-controlled bear-trap-thing on his
head only if he cuts out his own eye. He doesn’t, naturally, so we get
to start with a nice bloody squish.
Investigating the scene of this crime, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie
Wahlberg) gets drawn into the game set up by a serial killer Jigsaw. As
with the first victim, all of Jigsaw’s “contestants” die in much the
same way, having as the only alternative to death some horribly gory act
they must commit on themselves or someone else. Matthews has apparently
tracked Jigsaw for some time and finally captures the killer early in
this movie but not before Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), at death’s door from
cancer, can set in motion a “game” involving eight new contestants, one
of whom is Matthews’ son. As the police and Jigsaw watch on video
cameras, these contestants bumble through an old house trying to find
the antidote to the nerve gas which is slowly killing them. Along the
way, vials of the antidote come at the cost of assorted horrors (being
burned alive, jumping into a pit of broken hypodermic needles) and
Matthews must decide how best to break Jigsaw so he can save his son.
saw itself, the one that gave the first movie its title, appears only
briefly here. It’s a metaphorical
sawing-off-of-your-feet-to-escape-your-chains that gives this film its
extremely vague point. No matter, storytelling (whether it’s this
particular movie or the connection of this story to the previous movie)
is not particularly important. Mostly we just want to see a bunch of
characters we’ll never bother to get to know die in horrible, painful,
gory ways. And, honestly, the film’s got that. And Bell makes a truly
creepy villain, untouchable because of the cancer-given death sentence
already on his head. And all the atmospherics — the grunge-covered
house, the blue-gray lighting — work to make the movie at least
unpleasant and occasionally genuinely creepy.
What perhaps keeps Saw II from being a true standout in the horror genre
(from being, for example, scary) is that it is so heavy with its own
creepiness. We see the work, we see the effort that goes into making
every gimmicky kill as gory as possible. Horror movies can be big,
spectacular affairs, they can be funny or they can be campy. But they
are only scary when the creeps come at you from unexpected places and
have enough foundation in reality to make you believe, even for a split
second, that all that stage blood could be real. Saw II is just a
well-staged but still stagey haunted house.