|Star:||Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Willem Defoe, Salma Hayek, Mickey Rourke|
|Cert / Year:||15 - R / 2003|
Following on from Desperado The saga continues as El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) is forced from his hiding place in a remote Mexican village and recruited by devious CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) in an attempt to prevent a local drug cartel boss named Barrillo (Willem Dafoe) from using an army general to start a coup and overthrow and replace El Presidente so he can continue his illicit business unimpeded. As El Mariachi has certain issues with the aforementioned Army general and since everyone is trying to kill him again, he agrees to help and the and the adventure begins!
It is almost as if El Mariachi never went away. Antonio Banderas settles back into the scorpion crested jacket and role of avenging guitar playing folk hero exceptionally well and wastes no time in getting back into the Latin swing of things. After some of his recent performances where he has done little more than whisper and procrastinate through a film ( Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever) he shows that he is capable of good work now and again. Robert Rodriguez uses any excuse to shoe horn a performance by Cheech Marin into a film does it again as Marin crops up here yet again plays a sleazy bartender, ignoring the fact that his last one died in Desperado, slapping an eye patch on him does not mean he can rise from the grave. Willem Defoe seems like he has been left out to dry a little really, he has a fake tan and his usual disturbing mannerisms but you don't really buy the fact that he is THE bad guy. He plays the piano in an Island of Dr. Moreau way and generally sits there mugging inanely at the camera and his henchmen, Mickey Rourke included and offers little more really, which I think is primarily more to do with the script than any fault on his part. Perhaps on further viewings it may work, but first time round he doesn't work very well. There just seems to be something missing to the character, and you can't quite put your finger on it, as there is obviously more emphasis placed on the General Marquez character. Ruben Blades gets in a good performance as a retired FBI agent out to avenge the death of his friend and former partner named Archuleta, which as trivia fans will know just happens to be the name of his character in Predator 2.
The story leaps forward several years from where Desperado left off and much of the back story in between then and now is told through flash backs, featuring of course the very sexy Salma Hayek. It would have been nice to see her more involved with this story, instead of being little more than a secondary character but her performance essentially forms the basis for a movie in-between Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Without giving too much away, El Mariachi and Carolina marry and have a baby and eventually El is forced into a position where he is obliged to seek revenge in a spectacular and bloody fashion as always. That battered guitar case with a secret compartment full of weapons gets dusted off and comes out of retirement.
Where this film does work well is with the exaggerated action and characters that afford the film a very comic book feel in places whilst contrasting it with some beautiful photography and cinematography, reminiscent of Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy. That is of course equally balanced by some truly Wild Bunch-esque gunplay and explosive action, a dark sense of fun and some equally dark humour
The direction by Robert Rodriguez is slick throughout and encompasses some excellent gun battles. Rodriguez does these well as he proven time and again with other offerings, here they really have punch and good pacing although they are subject to extremism and are over the top as bodies are hurled across rooms and 20 foot into the air which is somewhat excessive even for action entertainment. Like Desperado, some set pieces work very well whereas others don't and on the whole this perhaps lacks some of the overall strength of Desperado. When it does work however it works very well providing some fantastic action choreography. But now and again, it slips a bit and you are left craving some of the full tilt inventive gunplay which we were treated to in Desperado. Not that this film is lacking in gun play, but the likes of the awesome bar shoot out of Desperado is sadly missed here and what you get doesn't quite compete with the excitement of it.
Johnny Depp steals the show and proves yet again to be a highly talented character actor, albeit in the comedic action / anti-hero ilk. His character of CIA agent Sands is a deliciously devious sociopath. He shoots a chef at one point because he makes a good pork dish, which he also justifies by using as a model to illustrate what he is trying to do in Mexico by balancing everything out and levelling the playing fields. He does of course, come to a sticky end.... Or does he? Either way he works superbly well here and to be honest steals every scene he is in, as with Pirates of the Caribbean he delivers a polished, quirky and memorable performance. Surprisingly enough what little you see of the awful "Latin hearthrob" Enrique Iglesias isn't that bad, his acting is better than his singing and that's for sure but he is only really here to make up the numbers of Mariachi's band anyway. Mickey Rourke plays a most understated and un-Mickey Rourke like character and is little more than a sidekick with a little dog to Willem Defoe's bad guy. Danny Trejo appears and plays his usual nasty Mexican bad ass self as he manages to do in every role he gets... which incidentally is generally in a Robert Rodriguez film. Eva Mendes plays your usual manipulative sneaky woman with the conviction of tree trunk and about as articualte as the aforementioned lump of wood. This acting practice may have worked well for her in 2 Fast 2 Furious but it just doesn't cut it here.
There is a mellow Hispanic / Latin flavour to the production and the music, even Sands' theme which incidentally was written by Johnny Depp. Which isn't as obtrusive as you might expect. Not quite the arsenal of the original but some cool gunplay and explosive mayhem nonetheless, a cracking action romp bound to raise a laugh or two and well worth a watch especially if you liked Desperado.
The time has come
Sands: Are you a Mexi-CAN or a Mexi-CAN'T?
Sands: Bullfights. Bull hockey. Do you like this? The bull is stabbed, prodded, beaten. The bull is wounded. The bull is tired before the matador ever steps into the ring. Now, is that victory? Of course it is. Wanna know the secret to winning? Creative sportsmanship. In other words, one has to rig the game.
Once upon a time in Mexico is a classic example of style over substance. This flashy mess just isn't a very good film, but mealy a collection of well shot scenes. Ok so the shootouts are for the most part impressive but they just fail to form part of a well-defined narrative. The story is just a retelling of the original two in flashy clothes. Yes there are countless double crosses but these serve little purpose but to introduce the inevitable shoot out. The main story is just a rather thinly plotted revenge story. Overall it was all done before, and much more coherently in Desperado.
It seems that Robert Rodriguez has lost his way somewhat in the past year or two. After the excellent Desperado and Spy Kids he seems content to polish his collection of camera tricks in an endless sequels of ever decreasing quality. There is no doubt that this film looks great but every thing is so unrealistically posed as to turn the proceedings into farce. I mean just how many times can Antonio Banderas spin round in slow motion with his arms outstretched looking moody in the middle of a gunfight.
Fortunately for Rodriguez the cast bail him out of the stylish mess. Leading the way is an excellent turn from Johnny Depp without whom this film would have floundered and died. He is worth a whole star in the final rating alone. A while Antonio Banderas draws yet another blank the supporting actors like Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Ruben Blades are on fine form. Despite the sometimes atrocious dialogue the actors give their all and it goes a long way into making the film work.
Once upon a time in Mexico is the kid in the playground showing off on his skateboard shouting to every one look at me aren't I cool. Just like the kid it is only a momentary distraction before you get bored of his antics. If you enjoy pointless posturing and flashy gunfights you will enjoy the film. If you expected something of the originals gritty realism or the first sequels narrative style you will be sorely disappointed. It is a shame that the El Mariachi series has been allowed to descend into gaudy farce.
|1:1.78 Anamorphic||Good crisp transfer|
|5.1 Dolby Digital||Excellent|
|Commentary by director Robert Rodriguez|
|8 Deleted / aternative scenes with optional commentary|
|"Inside Troublemaker Studios" - featurette|
|"Film is Dead: An evening with Robert Rodriguez" - featurette|
|"The Anti-Hero's Journey" - featurette|
|"The Good, The Bad and the Bloody: Inside KNB FX - special effects featurette|
|2 Short films by Robert Rodriguez|
|A good presentation which looks and sounds great. A good selection of extras too.|