Robert Rodriguez was only 24 when he wrote and directed “El Mariachi,” a critically acclaimed film about a
traveling musician/assassin that was made for only $7,000. Rodriguez remade the film three years later as “Desperado” with a big name star (Antonio Banderas) but still modest budget (7 million). Another eight years passed before the director finally brought fans a true sequel: “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” debuted in 2003 and, if you haven’t seen it, it was well worth the wait.
“Mexico” features a strong ensemble cast including Cheech Marin, Rubén Blades, Salma Hayek and Danny Tréjo (all of whom appear in his popular “Spy Kids” series as well) but it is Johnny Depp who, as he did in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” steals the show. His corrupt CIA agent’s plot to overthrow the Mexican President is convoluted without being entirely implausible. It is a Rube Goldberg contraption of delightful deviance, and Depp’s character gleefully pulls the strings of every major player onscreen as we, also gleefully, watch. Banderas, returning as the intense Mariachi (think Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in the Sergio Leoné films), is in top form here, melting villains with an icy stare before blowing them away with an assortment of armaments.
“Mexico” is exaggeratedly violent and surprisingly funny. It oozes atmosphere and includes some amazing stunts (anytime I see two characters chained together while dodging bullets, I know great things are coming). The film is crisp and beautiful, even when smoke and dust fill the screen. A classic spaghetti-western for the new millennium, “Mexico” is heartily recommended.
Pros: Great action. Great score. Great cast. Great fun.
Cons: The plot is a bit difficult to follow if you’re not paying 110% attention.
Review Rating: 4 out of 5 sauce-covered tumbleweed.
“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” (2003)
102 Minutes; Mexico, USA
Rated R for language and strong violence.
Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi)
Salma Hayek (Carolina)
Johnny Depp (Sands)
Mickey Rourke (Billy)
Eva Mendes (Ajedrez)
Danny Trejo (Cucuy)
Written and Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release
(Portions of this review originally appeared in my “Video View” newspaper column of 1/21/’04)