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In Brief: "The Mask of Zorro"

"Zorro" is "Star Wars" with real swords.

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In The Mask of Zorro, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas work with professional skill in a ludicrous vehicle -- a retro-style comedy-adventure with lots of explosions and fires and gold-toothed Mexicans falling down in a heap. In his black pants and cape, Hopkins, amazingly, has a rather mournful dignity; he uses his precise diction as if it were a weapon as potent as his whip and sword. He speaks with contempt to the messy Banderas -- a thief who doesn't know how to fight -- and then begins the arduous task of turning the young ruffian into a gentleman and a warrior. Banderas, with his flashing eyes, makes a good mock-Hidalgo, but the movie would be a lot more amusing if it weren't such kid stuff. The director, Martin Campbell, and a variety of screenwriters and producers have created a vaguely leftish tale of Zorro helping "the people" fight the Spanish grandees who want to take over old California. But no one on earth will be fooled by the movie's protestations of deep feeling. This Zorro is just another pop-culture jamboree. Zorro himself is less an aristocrat with a double life than an amalgam of Jackie Chan, Batman, and Obi-wan Kenobi. He lives in a huge black cave and employs martial-arts techniques to discipline his mind. The best thing in the movie is the swordplay. There's lots of it, in different places and styles, and even Catherine Zeta-Jones -- a young and beautiful actress of the heaving-bosom school -- gets into the act. She gives Banderas a good fight. When he prevails at last, he cuts the straps of her bodice with his rapier, but the camera, in the movie's only act of discretion, hides its eyes.


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