If you’re thinking that Antonio Banderas, born in Spain, is the ideal Zorro — the Latin folk hero who donned a mask and drew his sword to free Mexico from Spanish rule — think again. Anthony Hopkins, born in South Wales, has the role of Don Diego de la Vega, the Spanish nobleman who led a secret life as Zorro. Huh? It’s just one of the peculiar surprises in this lavishly produced swashbuckler that should have been far more entertaining.
Banderas plays Alejandro Murieta, a common thief who ends up in Zorro drag. To shorten a long story: Don Diego has rotted in jail for twenty years thanks to Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), the villain who has also raised Don Diego’s daughter, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as his own. Naturally, Don Diego is pissed. He escapes from prison, hooks up with Alejandro and trains the stud to replace him as Zorro.
It’s not easy. Alejandro needs a makeover, which requires lessons in manners as well as swordplay. Hopkins, while never convincingly Latin, hams it up royally. And Banderas cuts a sexy romantic figure, especially when he crosses swords with Elena — newcomer Zeta-Jones needs no lessons in being gorgeous — and turns the battle into a delicious game of strip-fencing.
What a shame, then, that director Martin Campbell (Golden Eye) bogs down the fun stuff with subplots about a gold mine and Don Rafael’s plan to buy California from Mexico. The stunts are a kick, except when it’s indefensibly obvious that we’re watching stunt doubles. And the constant crosscutting from Banderas to Hopkins — was it contractual that each has equal screen time? — is needlessly distracting. Banderas and Hopkins prove that there’s life in the Z-boy yet, but by leaving in the dull patches, the filmmakers may find audiences catching zzzzzs in ways they never intended.