In Hollywood, history is written in dry-erase marker. Consider “The Legend of Zorro,” a fun if lavishly misinformed swashbuckler that reflects both the movie industry's growing awareness of its Spanish-speaking audience, and the attitude that silly trifles such as dates and facts don't amount to a hill of frijoles.
The tagline for the masked don's latest adventure might read: “This time, he's dueling for democracy.” And so we find Don Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas, playfully self-deprecating) slipping into his stylishly embroidered Zorro threads, liberating a stolen ballot box from the enemies of representative government during California's drive toward statehood in 1850.
After a thrilling horse-drawn chase scene and some bruising bridge-top fisticuffs, de la Vega reveals that he's spent the last seven years “fighting for California's freedom,” presumably from Mexico, or maybe from space aliens. It's hard to say. (Not coincidentally, seven years is also the interval since Anthony Hopkins passed the Zorro mantle to Banderas in “The Mask of Zorro.”)
Alas, matters are not so progressive in the de la Vega household. Alejandro's headstrong wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wants him to quit the peasant-protecting business and spend more time with their plucky, impudent son (Adrian Alonso). Alejandro, like an aging NFL quarterback determined to grind out one more season, refuses. They separate, sending Elena into the embrace of a nefarious French wine lord (Rufus Sewell) who may or may not be planning evil, democracy-crippling subterfuge.
“Mask of Zorro” director Martin Campbell is back for this installment, and with him, an old pro's steady sense of pacing and spectacle. And the movie desperately needs it, because the script, by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (“The Island”), is a grand, paranoid farce of James Bond-style supervillains, ancient European cabals and a plot to arm the Confederate Army with futuristic weapons — get this — 11 years before there was a Confederate Army. The writers also demonstrate an irritating knack for crude political allusions, as when a pair of Homeland Security types complain how the gates of the country have been “thrown wide” to foreigners.
But that's just nit-picking, isn't it? If Hollywood finds it more romantic and politically correct to foster the notion that California's statehood was the result of multicultural peasant masses rising up in democratic unison, and not part of a complex federal bargaining process designed to avert the Civil War, so be it. Just so long as their progressive vision includes some French guys to take the fall.
‘The Legend of Zorro’
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Adrian Alonso, Rufus Sewell
Rating: PG (sequences of violence/peril and action, profanity and a couple of suggestive moments) Running time: 130 minutes
Playing: Opens Friday
in Valley theaters