Once Upon A Time In Mexico Review

Robert Rodriguez finishes another trilogy this year with the release of Once Upon A Time In Mexico. It’s the final film from the director’s popular El Mariachi film series that started with El Marachi, continued on with Desperado and finally comes to its conclusion with Mexico after a long eight years. Whether Rodriguez has left the best film until last is up to Iain Boulton who has reviewed the theatrical release.

Robert Rodriguez has been keeping his feet firmly in family genre over the past couple of years as he brought the Spy Kids trilogy to the screen. Rodriguez work on Spy Kids will be one that many instantly recognise. However, there’s the other side to Rodriguez who, outside Spy Kids, has directed slick, stylish and violent films such as From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado.

It is this side of Rodriguez that comes into focus today. As well as finishing off his family friendly Spy Kids trilogy with the release of Spy Kids 3D, Rodriguez has found time to complete his other movie trilogy about a guitar playing gunman known as El Mariachi. The director’s first film was the low budget independent hit of the same name which first introduced us to the character. This was then followed by him remaking that film into a sequel, Desperado, which had a considerably larger budget raking in stars Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Quentin Tarantino who put in a short but memorable cameo role. Containing more stylistic gunplay and sex appeal (due to the presence of Hayek), Desperado was a hit. After such great success, Rodriguez turned his attentions to other films and now eight years later has managed to return to his origins and bring us the final El Mariachi film.

Once Upon A Time in Mexico brings back El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) who now, after the events of Desperado lives in hiding. All alone and brooding in a quiet village, the gunman suddenly finds himself the tool of a CIA agents plan of busting a drug lord. CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) wants to hire El Mariachi to kill General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) who will start an overthrow of the Mexican president to allow drug dealer Barillo (Willem Dafoe) to take control of the country. El only agrees to do the job because it allows him to settle a score with Marquez from years back and starts planning this assignment with his fellow Mariachi gunmen (one notably singer Enrique Iglesias).

If that wasn’t enough, Sands also has the time to go and find a retired FBI agent (Ruben Blades) and encourage him to find out what exactly Barillo has planned. As well as making an FBI agent come out of retirement, the cunning CIA agent also makes plans with a beautiful female ATF Agent (Eva Mendes) allowing the pair to make some sort of financial pay off after the busts and assassinations. There’s a lot going on and you can’t help but think that everything is going to come together in one big clash.

For anyone expecting another Desperado prepare to be surprised. Mexico doesn’t really come close to matching the second film. In a way, it kind of tries to be a different sequel which is ideally a good thing considering that Terminator 3 and 2 Fast 2 Furious have lacked in the thought department this summer when it comes to a story. On the other hand though, Rodriguez gives us a multi-layered story with a lot of plot points to be aware of during viewing as the story switches from Antonio Banderas’ El Mariachi to Johnny Depps’ Agent Sands to Willem Dafoes’ drug baron. While sometimes confusing, this multi-layered plot is quite a nice change but I feel Rodriguez has crammed a little too much into the slender 102 minute runtime and therefore we are left with characters who we really would have liked to see developed more on screen.

The action scenes themselves, while always over the top in much the same way Desperado was, are quickly thrown in and thrown out leaving no time to take any notice of who’s been shot. However, they still have a spark of that inventive style Rodriguez uses to wow audiences resulting in some quite amazing action scenes such as El Mariachi and Carolina’s (Salma Hayek) chained hotel escape. Returning to the stylish gun fights this time around, bullets seem to have the power of mass strength as nearly everyone who gets shot goes flying through the air. Heck, we even have Latino singer Enrique Iglesias shooting people who then fly across the floor at high speed. The El Mariachi films have always been over the top and spectacular with their action and violence and Mexico hasn’t lost touch even if the scenes are short.

One thing that I also admired about Mexico is the way Rodriguez has shot the final part of this trilogy. Thanks to filming with digital cameras Rodriguez has tried to use as many tricks as he can with this film ranging from hand held shots following Johnny Depp around to using different lens filters. Mexico looks passionately made as Rodriguez brings out the true Mexican feel of the film as most of the dialogue spoken is in Spanish rather than English which accompanies the glorious Mexico scenery.

Mexico’s main gem though is the acting displayed by Johnny Depp whose Agent Sands’ character will likely be the most memorable once you’ve left the cinema. Depp’s been having a great year with his terrific over the top role for Pirates of the Caribbean. Surprisingly though Depp filmed this role before becoming pirate Jack Sparrow. The actor just steals his scenes from everyone else as he mixes cool style with witty dialogue while dishing out cruel punishment to those who try to go against his character. Even if the story confuses many, they’ll get a real treat with Depp’s acting in Mexico. That said, most of the acting is enjoyable giving a sense that the cast were having fun with this film, however it’s only going to be Depp that stands out. On the other hand, Antonio Banderas has returned to a character that he still plays well and hopefully for the time being will end his recent string of flops at the box office (Ecks Vs Sever anyone?).

In all, Once Upon A Time in Mexico is nowhere near the rankings of its predecessor, Desperado. Ultimately though, it’s a good sequel and one of the better ones when you’ve considered the lack of narrative in the summer’s other big sequels. As the season comes to a close this year, Mexico is a nice end. It won’t be a truly memorable experience but audiences should at least enjoy themselves with the action and the presence of Johnny Depp.

Iain Boulton

Updated: Sep 29, 2003

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