illed as the final installment in writer/director Robert
Rodriguez's El Mariachi trilogy, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" takes
guitar-slinging, gun-toting, drug dealer-killing musician El Mariachi (Antonio
Banderas) back to Mexico, where he has been hiding in a small town whittling
away his time by making guitars for the locals. El, as he's called, grudgingly
comes out of retirement when CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) comes calling, making
an offer El can't possibly refuse. The job: allow the Mexican president to be
assassinated, and then kill the assassin. The assassin happens to be a rogue
General name Marquez (Gerardo Vigil), who is also responsible for killing El's
wife Carolina (Salma Hayek) and their daughter.
With vengeance on his mind, El recruits two mariachi
buddies, Latin singer Enrique Iglesias and liquor store patron Marco Leonardi to
help out. As the timetable for the proposed assassination and
counter-assassination approaches, it becomes obvious Sands is playing a game
that involves drug cartel kingpin Barillo (Willem Dafoe). Somewhere along the
line, a retired FBI agent (Ruben Blades) enters the picture, as does Barillo's
right-hand man played by Mickey Rourke ("Get
Carter") as a fugitive who hates having to live in Mexico. And what
exactly does government agent Eva Mendes ("Out
of Time") have to do with all of this nonsensical nonsense?
Unfortunately for "Mexico", the phrase
"nonsensical nonsense" is very much appropriate. As written by
Rodriguez, who serves as writer, director, cinematographer, editor, caterer,
chauffeur, make-up person, and probably his own assistant and his assistant's
assistant, the script is a mish mash of wacky ideas tossed against a wall, with
every lame brain plot twist, turns, and double twists that Rodriguez could think
of jammed into the script. To say that "Mexico" was built from a
foundation of poor writing, weak narrative, and downright criminal neglect of
common sense logic is an understatement. What exactly is Sands' reason for
engineering a coup of the Mexican government again? Oh wait, it doesn't matter.
Fans of Rodriguez have always known that their idol was not
a good writer. To be perfectly honest, if not for the deserving legend
surrounding Rodriguez's feature film, the oft-mention "El Mariachi", I
would bet good money Rodriguez would be considered nothing more than a Hollywood
hack. He's the type of director who gets things done -- he brings the movie
under budget and well ahead of schedule, two abilities that makes him every
producer's dream. The trick, then, is to not let Rodriguez write his own movies.
As per example, take "From
Dusk Till Dawn", arguably his most well written piece, and Quentin
Tarantino wrote it!
But where he lacks in writing skills and maturity as a
director, Rodriguez excels in keeping the audience busy. Busy with unpredictable
visuals, wacky comedy, and over-the-top kinetic violence that he slings around
the screen with wild abandon. "Mexico" never goes for more than a few
minutes without something blowing up, someone getting shot and flying backwards
for about 50 yards through the air, or the type of zany editing Rodriguez is
most known for. Storytelling is abysmal, giving in to nonsensical backstabbing
and plotting that only makes sense in Rodriguez's mind -- if that. I can only
imagine what wackiness Rodriguez left on the cutting room floor.
Although she gets second billing, Salma Hayek ("Frida")
is not a major character in the film. Her Carolina only appears in flashbacks
for a total of 5 minutes or so. The fact that the film bills her so highly is
probably due more to her rising stardom than her screen minutes. Then again, the
movie's trailer also emphasizes co-star Johnny Depp as the (dare I say that word
again?) wacky homicidal CIA agent who thinks he's got all the sides covered, at
least until things come unglue real fast. No doubt the studios were playing off
Depp's affable turn as a pirate in the insanely popular "Pirates
of the Caribbean". His character here is equally comedic, but perhaps a
bit more in control. But not that much more in control.
The most disappointing thing about "Once Upon a Time
in Mexico" is how little presence star Antonio Banderas has. Although it
might not be Rodriguez's fault, because Banderas ("The
Mask of Zorro") has never really been an exciting actor to me. The guy
just doesn't seem to have much energy, and as a result he just looks bored all
the time, no matter the role. Every now and then one gets the feeling Rodriguez
has inserted so many characters than necessary in an attempt to make the film
feel more epic than it is, or is capable of being. At 100 minutes,
"Mexico" might just be the longest movie he's ever written!
For stylish and cartoonish violence, "Mexico"
delivers in spades. This is what would happen if you gave an 18-year old who has
been making super-8 shorts with his buddies since he was 10 a large sum of money
and tell him to go make you a movie. The whole thing isn't much to look at from
a storytelling perspective, but anyone who knows Rodriguez could hardly
The movie's final third act involves a siege of the royal palace by
Marquez and about, oh, 20 or 30 of his men. Who knew the Mexican government was
so easy to overthrow? Apparently all it takes is some guys with a bazooka and
some jeeps. Now that's what I call weak homeland security!