Robert Rodriguez is one of the most efficient directors in Hollywood. He directs, writes, edits and even does his own special effects, all from his home. With his fast and creative style, his low budgets almost always equal massive profits for the studios. He is also the director of Desperado, one of the best action movies ever made. And Once Upon a Time in Mexico, one of the worst.
The mystery of the year is how Robert Rodriguez, who up until this point I respected as a creative and entertaining director, managed to create the piece of stinking dog crap that is Once Upon a Time in Mexico. After all, it is the sequel to Desperado and El Mariachi (the original, which he made for about $7,000), and features the return of Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi, not to mention other major actors such as Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe and Salma Hayek. Desperado was good because it was simple, stylish and fun to watch. Once Upon a Time in Mexico is bad because it neglects all of these aspects.
Mexico is a jumbled mess with a thousand storylines that make no sense, and a thousand characters to support these subplots. Whereas the original two movies had our mariachi, a woman and a bad guy, Mexico has no less than three different main bad guys, numerous good guys (including Enrique Iglesias) and Johnny Depp's character somewhere in the middle. After all, it is Depp's corrupt CIA character that causes the entire mess, as he tries to play five sides off each other to achieve his own goals. Unfortunately, the result is an incoherent mess of a movie that is confusing, boring and most of all, idiotic.
Mexico is bad on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin. As it has been made clear, Desperado is one of my favorite movies. I have seen it at least 30 times. I wasn't expecting the same level of perfection, and after the reviews started coming out I definitely lowered my expectations further, but nothing can prepare you for how bad this movie is.
Antonio Banderas is almost a supporting character. Salma Hayek appears only in a few small flashbacks. Salma Hayek is killed. The movie has several unnecessary protagonists, including a retired FBI Agent who gets his own revenge storyline (Ruben Blades), Enrique (who is yet another friend that carries weapons in a guitar case) and Mickey Rourke as a fugitive tired of running. Eva Mendes' character is utterly pointless. Willem Dafoe is a Latino? These are just a few of the miscues.
As disappointing as the plots and characters are, the real disappointment lies in the directing. Whereas in Desperado Rodriguez knew just how to light a scene, make Banderas menacing no matter what, and time the music to every gunshot, Mexico has none of that. None of the action scenes flow, and, really, the action scenes suck. Not one of them is even remotely engaging, and do not even feel even slightly suspenseful. The camera angles and styles used in Once Upon a Time in Mexico look as though a high school student filmed it.
Of course, many people have been talking about Johnny Depp, especially since he has regained much popularity with Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp plays an absolute scumbag here, a man who is willing to kill a chef over a bad meal, let alone destroy a country to fulfill his plans. Nevertheless, he is slightly amusing as this scumbag, and gets to say pretty much all of the few witty lines out of the screenplay. Depp does not even come close to saving this movie (especially since he gets to kill several people as he runs around town with his eyes gouged out), but he is perhaps the one dim shining light.
It is horrifying to think that this complicated piece of garbage is related to Desperado, but it is. Reviews like this most likely will make people shake their heads and say, "It can't be that bad." Unfortunately, only people who have seen the movie know just how pathetic Once Upon a Time in Mexico is.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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