> El Mariachi - SPANISH ONLY !Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaqu
El Mariachi - SPANISH ONLY !Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaqu
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├é Lately, Robert Rodriquez, the maverick director who first won notice of Tinseltown by cobbling together El Mariachi from the unbelievable budget of $7000, seems to have succumbed to the same bug. Rodriguez reached the peak of his form with 1995's Desperado, where the free and crazy camera angles, skillful comic overtones, and impudent sense of style demonstrated by the violence-as-art gunfights, cashed in on instant fame and grande future production budgets. Desperado continued the saga of El Mariachi's vengeance minded ex-musician and scored extra oomph by brining out the sizzling intensity of a young, golden skinned Antonio Banderas in the lead.
├é Now, Rodriguez returns to the El Mariachi saga to produce a third and final installment. The result is Once Upon a Time in Mexico, a movie which attempts to rekindle the mythic purity of the lone wolf mariachi, mixed in with a really, really big -- read "Epic" -- plot. While he manages to bring together a truly charismatic cast -- Banderas and Salma Hayek return from Desperado, and Willem Dafoe and Johnny Depp take on key roles -- the complicated plot lines and chaotic direction splits the movie wide open like an overstuffed tortilla.
A couple of years have passed since the Mariachi gunned down the drug cartel responsible for messing up his life and drove off with Carolina, the beautiful bookstore owner played by Hayek. In the interval, he weds Carolina and has a daughter with her. However, a ghost from Carolina's romantic past returns and decides to repay her for leaving him by emptying an automatic weapon in her. Carolina and the daughter die, leaving the Mariachi heartbroken once more.
Meanwhile, a corrupt CIA agent called Sands -- played by Depp -- is manipulating the power struggle between the state and the big daddy of all drug cartels in Mexico. El Presidente decides to take out Barillo, the kingpin running the cartel, and Barillo decides it's time for a judicious transfer of power. He hires a shady Mexican army guy called General Marquez to take El Presidente out, so he can put a more amenable puppet in place. While Sands approves of a coup, he isn't too sure that the General won't usurp power himself, so enter the Mariachi, whose mythic status in Mexico convinces him that he'd be the perfect man to take out Marquez. And why on earth would the Mariachi want to get involved in this conspiracy stinkfest? You guessed it; Marquez is the guy who killed his beloved Carolina.
Not only is the plot messy and the motivations weak, but Rodriquez throws in a whole slew of side characters that seem to get involved in the conspiracy to settle their own agendas. The good and the bad cross lines so frequently that you simply don't know whom to hate or whom to root for. The end product is less the cap to an epic saga than it is epic pandemonium. Rodriquez clearly wants to pull off Sergio Leone's feat of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, where the two central characters get tangled up with the Civil War as they trek the West for a buried treasure, but he's laid low by post-Spy Kids "more bang for the buck" virus that ruins so many action thrillers.
Of course, part of problem is figuring out exactly who the hero is. If you watched the trailers and were confused about whether the star of the movie was Antonio Banderas or Johnny Depp, you wouldn't be far off mark. Once Upon a Time in Mexico ends up being more about Johnny Depp being smart with his mouth -- a talent he definitely showcased in this summer's Pirates of the Carribean -- than about giving a logical end to the Mariachi saga. Don' get me wrong; I love Depp when he's being a cocky smart-aleck, and throw in the sexy allure of a bad boy agent who walks around with fake, detachable arms, you have a lot to be happy about.
But unless you're a hard-core Depp fan, chances are that the reason you want to see the movie in the first place is because something about Desperado completely won you over: the figure of the intense, tragic musician robbed of his career by drug violence, who's out to get revenge by mastering a completely different instrument -- guns. Banderas, dressed as a somber, long-haired matador, toting a guitar case full of guns, was unbelievably cool. Or you could be a fan of stylish violence, in which case you still wouldn't be happy because a lot of fight choreography filches shamefully off of Desperado fight scenes.
Another irritation is the sappy sentimentality thrown in "this bigger and most definitely not better" western. The Mariachi was like the other mythic Man with No Name, a self-interested agent; he had his own scores to settle, and only showed caring in the brief instances where he could afford it. The Mariachi who returns for Once Upon a Time is a son of the soil, who ends up deciding to save Mexico because, what the hell, he loves his country. And if you were willing to excuse Banderas taking on a whole cartel in Desperado because it was done so well, there is no way Banderas taking on the entire renegade Mexican army in Once Upon a Time isn't going to seem silly.
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