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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Zorro' Rescues Lost Adventure Genre

The Mask of Zorro," now playing at the American House of Cinema, is part of a heartening trend in Hollywood films: the return of the adventure movie.

The adventure movie stands in contradistinction to the "action" movie, which has clogged Hollywood arteries for almost 20 years.

"Action" pics rely almost entirely on heavy weaponry and ear-splitting, eye-boggling special effects; plot, dialogue and character are tacked on as afterthoughts. Indeed, the emphasis of action movies was placed so far from anything remotely resembling normal humanity that the biggest action star of all was a man who didn't remotely resemble normal humanity: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Thankfully, Arnold seems to have gone into semi-retirement now, spending his days puttering around his restaurant chain and cigar stores.

Fellow action avatars like Sly Stallone have moved on to more meaty character roles ("Copland"); even wild man Bruce Willis has been saying he's sick of prancing around in front of a blue screen, reacting to explosions that will be downloaded months later by computer animators.

It seems the end of an era: Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl; Arnie, Sly, Bruce f the '80s, thank God, are finally over.

Now into the breach step "adventure" films: "The Man in the Iron Mask," "Les Miserables," "Mission: Impossible" f movies that lean far more on character and plotting, and depend on good acting, not just techno-gimmickry, to deliver the goods. The roster of talent is impressive: Liam Neeson, Vanessa Redgrave, Geoffrey Rush, Gerard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons, Jon Voight f a line-up miles above threadbare thespians like Arnie and Sly.

And they are joined by Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas, who play the two Zorros in director Martin Campbell's thickly plotted swashbuckler. The film is far from perfect, with many overcooked melodramatic elements; it is, in essence, a pretty silly business. But it is carried off with the kind of panache and vigor that would make classic Zorros of yore, Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power, feel at home.

"Zorro" is a species of Western, of course, but this is the Spanish West, California in the early 19th century, where a noble nobleman, Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins), masked as the mysterious Zorro (which means "fox"), fights the corruption of the wicked governor, Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). The opening sequences show us Don Diego as a younger man and the disaster that befalls him: Montero kills his wife, steals his daughter and jails Diego. Twenty years later, Montero is still riding high, plotting a complex deal with secret gold that will give him outright control of California.

Diego finds a new champion in the petty bandit Alejandro (Banderas), whom he knew as a boy. He trains Alejandro in the Zorro way, and sends him to infiltrate the glittering entourage of evil around Montero. There, Alejandro falls in love with the ravishing Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who believes she is Montero's daughter (but is really Diego's long-lost bairn).

Well, we said it was pretty silly stuff. But it is acted with conviction.

As the world braces for hard times, the resurgence of the adventure movie is a welcome diversion: something rousing, not brutal; something full of life, not riddled with techno-death.