Why all the guilt, El Mariachi? It seems as though the only
thing strong enough to drag the reclusive gunman out of hiding and
wallowing in self-pity is the scrumptious flavor of revenge. It
worked in “Desperado,” and to no surprise, it works in
“Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”

After losing his wife (Salma Hayek) and child at the hands of a
corrupt Mexican general, El – as he reached legendary status,
locals truncated his moniker to “The” – took refuge in a
guitar-makers’ guild in rural Mexico.

His services are required once again, though, in this third
installment of his saga. CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) seeks to
thwart an impending military coup that would empower the very same
general who killed El’s wife … mmm, potential vengeance.

From here, director Robert Rodriguez contrasts “Mexico”‘s
predecessor by taking quite a few sharp turns and incorporates too
many disparate elements. Throughout “Desperado,” we knew that El’s
impetus was to kill his fiendish brother, plain and simple. The
story of “Once Upon,” however, is much more nuanced. Sands has
alterior financial motives in his scheme, a retired FBI agent gets
involved to avenge his partner’s death and a fiery, young, Mexican
task force agent is complicit in the plotted coup, amongst other

This plot variation creates interest and doesn’t become
excessively muddled; however, it does lead to a protagonistic
shift: Sands becomes the film’s driving force. Depp’s character is
clearly scripted and crafted to draw and hold attention. He speaks
in quips and has a very curious, unpredictable demeanor about him.
All these traits come to fruition in an astounding closing gunfight
involving a then-blinded Sands.

Just as in the movie, much here has been said about Depp –
somewhat at the expense of the other cast members. Banderas turns
in another sound performance, executing his best scenes with a
scowl on face and a gun in his hand. Willem Dafoe, Cheech Marin and
Enrique Iglesias round out the notable cast, but their roles,
especially relative to Depp’s, are not remarkable.

“Mexico,” more than “El Mariachi” or “Desperado,” attempts to
entertain and doesn’t take itself, and consequently its characters,
as seriously. The roles are more caricatured, the dialogue more
comical and the film itself more focused on technically sound,
dynamic action than reflection or personal emotion. Amid all these
changes, though, the tale of the mariachi retains the simple
poignancy and entertainment value that made it so great.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars







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