A review of “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for violence, bloodshed, and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

 

 

El Mariachi continues his lonely sojourn across the scabrous tundra, in Robert Rodriguez’ third, bloodiest, and highest-budgeted installment of the “Desperado” trilogy.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Rodriguez spins more tale of El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), bandito of nine lives.  After the untimely murder of his wife and child (and his own near-death experience) the man and the myth emerges stronger than ever, hell-bent on revenge.

The plot is a mass confusion of shady Mexican politics, involving revolution, a vicious cartel kingpin (Willem Dafoe), and the ubiquitous coup d’état.  Lurking in the shadows is corrupt CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) who provokes the players into undesirable acts fraught with peril. Treachery and sabotage bump up against betrayal, rendering the entire story a jumble of bloody anarchy. Bottom line, El Mariachi is to exact the ultimate revenge on the vicious military general who took the life of the only woman he has ever loved.

It’s Rodriguez’ party and you’re invited to attend. This filmic vagabond offers up his material as amusement, by spoofing his own script (“Are you a Mexican or a Mexican’t?”) and channeling the ghosts of Cinema Past.  Irreverent homage is paid to classic actioner John Woo, the B-movie antics of early James Bond, and thriller staple “Silence of the Lambs”, with the slick veneer of Sergio Leone washed over all. 

The gore runs thick as a river throughout the imaginary Mexican village, complete with a triple-digit body count. Rodriguez runs into narrative trouble mid-way through, relying heavily on tamale-Western cliché to make his point.  His editing style (yes, the man wrote, produced, directed, “shot, chopped and scored” the film himself) is coarse and unrefined, but manages to infuse the proceedings with a snappy energy.

The cast plays it for laughs, with Depp leading the pack with a mesmerizing, balls-out performance that electrifies from start to finish.  Banderas (oh so hot!) maintains his Latin simmer, and the supporting cast reads like a Who’s Who of talented Hispanic entertainment – Salma Hayek, Enrique Iglesias, Rubén Blades, Cheech Marin, etc.  Score is thoroughly infectious, a must-own for movie music aficionados.