Movie Reviews by Neils Hesse and Dr Kuma
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Eva Mendes, Willem Dafoe
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Review by Neils Hesse
El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) returns with a vengeance in this blood soaked tale of redemption, rebirth, betrayal and ultimate justice. This time around the guitar playing, machine gun toting, Mexican legend is found living out a quiet existence in his small home village. Coaxed out by an unorthodox CIA Agent, Sands (Johnny Depp), Sands makes El Mariachi aware of the presence of an old enemy of his. Sands then orchestrates an elaborate plan to have the ruling drug lord (Willem Dafoe) killed by an ambitious young policewoman Ajedrez (Eva Mendes), whilst allowing the drug lord to have the ruling president executed by a corrupt general, who is the Mariachi’s old mortal enemy and is equally earmarked for death.
This chain of events would triumphantly leave Sands and Ajedrez to the spoils. Unfortunately things do not go according to plan for Sands leading to disastrous consequences. Meanwhile El Mariachi is assisted by his two trusty mariachis Fideo (Marco Lenardo) and Lorenzo (Enrique Iglesias) in his bloody revenge.
Banderas is great as El Mariachi oozing confidence and cold-blooded almost religious conviction in his dealings as the dreaded El Mariachi. Depp is a revelation as a refreshingly different CIA agent who is used to winning but is dealt a harsh wake up call. The rest of the all star cast are first class even Mickey Rourke who puts in a very good performance as a world weary thug. Salma Hayek is unfortunately underused, as are Willem Dafoe and Eva Mendes. There are cameos from Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo and a great supporting turn from Ruben Blades.
Robert Rodriguez provides a blistering Mexican soundtrack, bloody innovative action scenes (watch out for the dizzy inducing chain strapped Banderas/Hayek leaping/hanging out of the window scene) and the very interesting cinematography. However as good as this film is, it still feels as though all the newly introduced strands which are very good individually, do not really mesh together that well.
The result is that ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO has an excellent cast, good story and good action but perhaps better and tighter connection of the varying strands would have elevated it from good to excellent. It’s an enjoyable bloodfest that is still way ahead of many of the basic run of the mill action fare in the cinema today and is definitely worth the trip to the cinema.
Review by Dr Kuma
Once upon a time there was an actor called Johnny Depp. Johnny was a special boy. He had a talent for stealing the show in any movie he appeared in, no matter how small his part. He didn’t appear in just big Hollywood pictures, he appeared in lots of small, independent movies, but the one thing about Johnny, no matter how bad the movie was as a whole, he was the one you remembered being the highlight. Now, if we’re all ready, lets read about Johnny’s latest adventure. This is the story of a drug lord who tries to overthrow the Mexican president, who is surrounded by dark and shady characters. One of these corrupt people is CIA agent Sands who demands retribution from his worst enemy in order to carry out the drug lord’s uprising against the government.
The Mariachi (a fantastic looking Banderas) is recruited by Sands to take out General Marquez (the Mariachi’s sworn enemy). Marquez is working with Barrillo (the drugs baron), and is about to assassinate El Presidente and assume power. Sands also convinces a retired FBI agent, who also has old scores to settle with Barrillo to come out of retirement and take out The Dealer. But is Sands just getting everyone to kill each other so he can take over everything? That, children is where we will leave it for tonight, as even I’m getting tired trying to read between the lines. I saw the film and still couldn’t understand (along with most people there) what on earth was going on.
The opening 20 minutes of this film are brilliant. The cast looks fantastic (a who’s who of cultdom) and Salma Hyackakakakak – wow!. There’s some great lines; “Are you a Mexican or a Mexican’t?” and some great stunts – the Mariachi’s escape from the hotel chained to his wife is one of the best escapes – period!
I really love the director’s work (he famously sold his own blood to finance the first film which this is the third instalment of), but this time, as it says on the films titles, I think he ‘chopped’ a bit too much and although the movie looks great, it is too disjointed to hold together as a uniformed piece. It was Tarantino who told the director that the first two pictures were like spaghetti westerns and this inspired this third (in true FISTFUL OF DOLLARS tradition) instalment, but really, it doesn’t come close. The third Sergio Leone ‘Man With No Name’ film, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, was almost twice as long but also made twice as much sense. Go along and see this if you’re a fan of cultdom (although the best cult western of the last 20 years is still Sam Rami’s THE QUICK AND THE DEAD). The cast are great, but realistically, the movies that Rodriguez is trying to homage cast a much larger shadow. It feels like every other page of the script was filmed, as we jump from one scene to the other, without any real background to them.
Dr Kuma’s verdict: Banderas looks great but there is just not enough of him on screen. In the style of RIO BRAVO, a popular teen singer is cast to take in the 16-24 audience – Ricky Nelson then, Enrique Iglesias now). If the director ever gives up film, then the very impressive score proves he will never be out of work.
Epilogue: So children, it just goes to show that a part that only took 9 days to shoot can still steal the show, as our hero Johnny does yet again.
Verdict: 3 bullets left out of 6.