When a movie starts with the title "A Robert Rodriguez flick", you know its begging not to be taken seriously. This is how it should be considering how many times the hero, El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), flies through the air, firing away. Bullets aren't merely shot, they're sprayed, just to make sure the intended victim is killed off.
Welcome to 'Once upon a time in Mexico' the sequel to the cult action movie hit from 1995, 'Desperado' and apparently the third of the director's intended trilogy about a rogue Mexican hero. I can't quite claim to be the expert to judge this movies merits with reference to the previous two, since the first, entitled 'El Mariachi', is unseen by me, while 'Desperado', didn't quite catch my attention, but for what its worth, 'Mexico' does a very capable job of being an entertaining saga of revenge and double crosses, peppered with enough number of shady characters to make Mickey Rourke, seem tame in comparison.
The story, for those who care to look for one in a movie as fun as this, consists of a lonely El (we find out later why this is so) who is hired by CIA Agent Sands (the unmistakable Johnny Depp) to flush out a renegade General Marquez, who is intent on assassinating the president of Mexico in a possible coup. Backing the nasty general, with whom El has a score to settle, is the Cartel, led by Barillo (William Dafoe). Tossed into this eclectic mix is an FBI agent, brought in from retirement and an over eager special forces cop (Eva Mendes), part of an elite team specially assembled to take down the Cartel. Also having a visibly limited presence is Salma Hayek, as El's wife and driving force. Did I mention Enrique Iglesias is there as well, carrying a guitar case that throws off flame?
Of all the people we bump into, Johnny Depp's portrayal of a calmly manipulative CIA agent is likely to be the most memorable. While this is supposed to be Banderas' movie, having been given top billing, such a stand out is Depp as agent Sand's that one can't help but chuckle whenever he is on screen. This may sound like a cliché, and it's certainly the second time it's being used this year with reference to Depp (the first time was obviously his flashy portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'), but he steals every frame of the film that he's in, possibly the entire movie.
Banderas, better here than he has in been in much of his previous work, is well suited as the guitar wielding hero, and the man can shoot as well as he can play his guitar. His character isn't much different than the one he's played before in Zorro, only more subsided. The movie isn't for the squeamish of heart though. Violence is gleefully portrayed and it gets both bloody and brutal towards the end. While the editing is very choppy (done by the director himself) and the sets come across as made with very little attention to detail, it never distracts. The action, though incredulous, is amusingly implausible and highly pleasurable. Contrary to what many critics have said, the story isn't an incoherent mess, its actually pretty well structured together and allows for most threads to be resolved fairly.
Note: The only major complaint that I have with this movie is the fact that it contained a fairly large number of sequences in Spanish (close to a quarter of the spoken dialogue I would say). Sadly, none of these were subtitled in English (they were in Arabic though), and while it never faltered the experience, it is always of benefit to know every character motivation. While I've yet to read of similar complaints from audiences elsewhere the world over, it would help to make a complete translation of texts in a movie spoken in another language, to cater to a wider audience. - Faizan Rashid