Written and directed by
You have to hand it to filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. He certainly knows his way around a film production. If there is a job to do on one of his movies, Rodriguez can and will do it, making him one of the most “hands-on” guys there is in Hollywood.
The first time he donned multiple hats was for his 1992 debut, El Mariachi, which he made for $7,000. It became a hit on the arthouse circuit. Desperado, a remake/sequel hybrid of Mariachi, followed three years later with a bigger budget (a whopping seven million dollars!) and actual movie stars, Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. The success of Desperado cemented Rodriguez’s reputation in Hollywood as a director who can make quality entertainment and do it efficiently. Eight years and several big hits – in particular the Spy Kids trilogy – later, Rodriguez has returned to the land of his gun-slinging guitar player for a third instalment, Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
As the film opens, Mariachi (Banderas), or as he is known in the film, “El”, has retreated into a life of isolation, haunted and scarred by the loss of his family. El is forced out of hiding by a fraudulent CIA agent named Sands (Johnny Depp) to sabotage a plot by a drug cartel kingpin named Barillo (Willem Dafoe), who is planning to assassinate the president of Mexico and replace him with a sadistic general named Marquez, the man responsible for the death of El’s family.
Connected to this tale of revenge are two subplots, one involving a former FBI agent (Ruben Blades) out to avenge the death of his partner with the help of one of Barillo’s men (Mickey Rourke), and the other dealing with a Special Agent (Eva Mendes) who may or may not be in cahoots with Sands.
The first two Mariachi flicks were great fun, lean and mean action flicks that offered a great visceral kick thanks to their focused intensity and straightforward stories of revenge. Mexico, on the other hand, is anything but. With its multiple storylines, characters and action scenes, Mexico feels like a water balloon filled to its breaking point. Had the film run two and a half hours things may have been given more time to develop. But we’re only talking 97 minutes here and the story gets so convoluted at times that you might have trouble keeping track of everything going on – or caring about any of the characters.
The usually reliable, hyperactive action sequences that peppered the first two films also seem to have lost their punch. Rodriguez moves the camera around like a three-year old on a sugar high and edits just as quickly, but the end result feels more like an attempt to cover up the action’s staleness than it does an effort to make things exciting. Mexico is also the eight millionth release this year guilty of constantly defying all laws of logic and gravity (though at least there was no kung fu to speak of). Unlike the first two films, you won’t get an adrenaline rush watching these scenes. You’ll encounter a plentiful supply of yawns instead.
Antonio Banderas may play the main character, but he’s overshadowed by the presence of Johnny Depp. Don’t get me wrong. Depp is a lot of fun as Sands, but I really wish so much focus hadn’t been put on what is essentially a supporting character. The colourful ensemble cast gives it their best shot, but given what they have to work with, there isn’t much of a chance to leave any sort of real impression with their performances.
Robert Rodriguez modelled Once Upon A Time In Mexico after the Spaghetti Westerns made famous by the late, great Sergio Leone. Anyone who has seen Leone’s work will recognize his influences in this film, be it the music, the operatic nature of the story or the title. Rodriguez is adept at mimicking Leone’s style, but apparently not his filmmaking talent. Based on my enjoyment of the first two installments, I had moderately high hopes for Once Upon A Time In Mexico, but alas the third time is definitely not the charm.