Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Antonio Banderas

Salma Hayek

Pirates of The Caribbean - The Curse of The Black Pearl  (Johnny Depp)


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Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Robert Rodriguez may be becoming a victim of his own excess.  No longer content to merely write or direct a picture, Rodriguez writes, directs, edits (or, as it says in the credits "chops"), is director of photography, in charge of production design and composes the music to Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  While the first two El Mariachi films were steamy in-your-face gunslingers, Rodriguez is determined to try for something more with the third installment.  The name of his third El Mariachi film is no fluke; Robert Rodriguez is beginning to have delusions of Sergio Leone. 

Parallels can be drawn between Rodriguez's El Mariachi and Leone's A Fistful of Dollars.  One could also find similarities between Rodriguez's Desperado and Leone's For a Few Dollars More.  Unfortunately, Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico doesn't hold a candle to Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, even though it tries desperately to emulate the 1966 classic. 

It's obvious that Rodriguez was trying to create a modern day western of epic scope.  He introduces so many different characters and numerous plot lines that it would be wise to take notes while you're watching the film.  No more is Antonio Banderas's El Mariachi placed front and center.  He's seemingly lost in a whirlwind of crisscrossing story threads.  Antonio isn't the only actor to be pushed out of the spotlight.  The wonderful and sexy Salma Hayek, playing the tough and seductive Carolina, is in the film no more than 10 minutes.   

I haven't watched El Mariachi or Desperado for at least half a decade, but I swear that what was put before me in Once Upon a Time in Mexico wasn't material I had forgotten, but an entirely new storyline.  I don't remember Carolina becoming pregnant with Mariachi's child.  I don't remember her being murdered, along with her unborn son or daughter.  It's as though Rodriguez was flashing back to a film that never existed.  Desperado 1.5?  This isn't the only lazy screenwriting in the film. 

Yet, Rodriguez manages to make the entire thing interesting thanks in large part to his finely-honed directing skills.  When he does decide to make the film move, it races.  The most exciting scene features Carolina and El Mariachi.  The two are chained to a bed (why didn't the baddies save time by shooting them, rather than putting them in shackles?) when they start to get shot at.  To escape the gunfire, they jump out the fifth floor hotel window and swing from pole to pole in an attempt to make it to the ground.  The scene culminates in a ride atop a bus and a gigantic explosion.  Now this is the kind of El Mariachi adventure that I pay my hard earned money to see!

Regrettably, there are only two action scenes with Carolina and Mariachi, and that isn't nearly enough.  To tide us over we have the corrupt CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp).  Depp is given the bulk of the best lines in the film and some of the most brutal moments of the movie.  His character is a bastard, but you end up feeling slightly sympathetic for him by the time the story comes to a close.  I'm still not sure if that's what Rodriguez intended for the character, or if Depp just naturally evokes sympathy from an audience - even when his eyes are gouged out and blood is running down his face. 

Because of the wonderful character Rodriguez wrote for Johnny, and the way Depp plays him out with such sadistic glee, the movie does manage to move along, even though the more interesting characters of El Mariachi and Carolina are noticeably missing for a good chunk of the picture.  There are numerous other characters (including Willem Dafoe struggling unsuccessfully to create a believable Mexican accent) and a boatload of stories, most of which revolve around an assassination attempt on the Mexican president.  The story grows ever more convoluted until it gets to a point where it's hard to keep paying attention or giving a shit. 

But, just when you're writing the film off as a dud, Rodriguez has El Mariachi surfing his guitar case down a banister or taking a quick break from a murderous gunfight in a church to bow down and give the sign of the cross.  It's then that you remember what made the first two films so much fun.  Once Upon a Time in Mexico isn't exactly "fun," but it's not the worst way to wrap up a trilogy.  Now, if Robert would just get around to creating Desperado 1.5.  Those flashback scenes to a non-existent movie were by far the most interesting moments shown to us in this film.

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Coming soon -- Reviews of Cold Creek Manor, Underworld, Lost in Translation and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].