Dir: Martin Campbell. US.2005. 126mins.

Family matters take up as much time as swashbucklingin the belated sequel - reuniting Antonio Banderasand Catherine Zeta-Jones with director Martin Campbell, but missing co-starAnthony Hopkins - to 1998 adventure romp TheMask Of Zorro. The sequel recreates some of the enjoyable Saturday matineeaction that helped turn the original into a $250m global hit. But, apparentlywith the intention of luring a bigger family audience this time out, it dilutesthat spirit with broader comedy, a sillier plot and insipid domestic drama,resulting in a movie that isn't nearly as much fun as its smartly constructedpredecessor.

Produced by Spyglass and Amblin, with Sony distributing worldwide, the sequel opensday-and-date in the US and many international territories this weekend. Banderas and Zeta-Jones may not be quite the draws theywere a few years ago, but their names attached to a known property should stillproduce sizeable opening weekend crowds.

In the US, the film will alsobe helped by its PG rating (the original was PG-13), and internationally thestars' names should be especially effective (the original grossed 62% of itstotal outside the States). The big question, however, is how long The Legend ofZorro can run theatrically before it has to turn to the DVD marketplace to lookfor the rest of its revenue.

With a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (bestknown for TV's Alias and thissummer's Michael Bay feature The Island),the sequel opens in 1850 (a decade after the first film ended), just as theonce Mexican territory of California is about to become a US state.

Acrobatic masked hero Zorro(Banderas) single-handedly fends off a threat to theelection process but then starts preparing for a quiet retirement under hisreal identity as Don Alejandro de la Vega, husband to Elena (Zeta-Jones) andfather to ten-year-old Joaquin (Alonso).

The retirement plans are puton hold when Alejandro/Zorro discovers that French aristocrat Armand (Sewell),an old friend of Elena's who recently arrived in California to start a winery,is in fact conspiring to destabilize the new state and undermine the growingstrength of the US. The scheme leads the film off on an unlikely courseinvolving an ancient secret society, a nitroglycerinefactory and a plan for world domination.

The sub-plot, though, is abit more grounded. Angry that her husband is breaking his promise to discardthe mask of Zorro, Elena kicks Alejandro out of the hacienda and apparentlystarts a relationship with the smarmy Armand. So now, besides saving his newcountry, Alejandro has to fight to get his wife and son back as well.

The Legend Of Zorro works best when it is emulating the kind of oldschool action that distinguished the first film. Though they are mostly packedinto the film's first and last half hours, the horse riding and sword fightingstunts - most of them apparently achieved without CG enhancement - are oftenthrilling.

The sequel also has the sameold-fashioned feel and handsome look (it was shot entirely on location inMexico) as its predecessor.

Comedy was also an elementin the first film, of course, but this time the humour is very broad andconsiderably less effective. Gags like Alejandro's drunken conversation withhis horse are cartoonish and laboured.

Unsurprisingly, Banderas and Zeta-Jones are not quite as sexy and fresh asthey were seven years ago and while Alonso (most recently seen in InnocentVoices) is certainly cute as Joaquin, the idea of making him a chip off the oldZorro block feels like a pretty tired sequel trick.

Hopkins' absence leaves thefilm lacking in dramatic heft (he played the original Zorro who handed the maskon to Alejandro) and British actor Sewell (from A Knight's Tale and Dark City)can't do much with the role of dull villain Armand. Chinlund(from Training Day) plays a secondarybut no more interesting villain.

With most of the non-actionelements falling short, the over-long sequel drags badly in the hour-plusbetween its lively opening and closing segments (the first film was actuallyeven longer but its pace made the time pass quicker). The upshot is likely tobe a lot of fidgeting in the dark - by parents as well as their kids.

Production companies
Columbia Pictures
Spyglass Entertainment
Amblin Entertainment

US distribution
Sony Pictures

International distribution
Sony Pictures Releasing Int'l

Executive producers
Steven Spielberg
Gary Barber
Roger Birnbaum

Walter F Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Lloyd Phillips

Roberto Orci
Alex Kurtzman

Phil Meheux

Production design
Cecilia Montiel

Stuart Baird

James Horner

Main cast
Antonio Banderas
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Rufus Sewell
Nick Chinlund