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"Once Upon a Time in Mexico"

Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Written by Robert Rodriguez. 
Starring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Johnny Depp.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  10/20/03 


You remember “Desperado”?  For a while, it was one of my top 10 action films of all time.  The action is great, fun, creative at times, and has a flair that most action movies aren’t able to touch.  Antonio Banderas is perfect in the lead role as a rogue mariachi that sets out to avenge the death of his girlfriend at the hands of thugs; Salma Hayek is ridiculously perfect as the love interest of Banderas’ character.  (Her first shot, when she crosses the street just ahead of two cars that wreck while the drivers stare her down, is priceless.)  The comedy is what makes “Desperado” work, though—Steve Buscemi’s hilarious opening scene in Cheech Marin’s dirty dive bar, a cameo by Quentin Tarantino and comic moments featuring the leads and main bad guy Joaquim de Almeida all fill the air grandly between action sequences.

I have been fired up for “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” since last year; filming was completed many months ago but the film was held until now for reasons that I do not know but I ALWAYS think this is a bad sign.  But, I was hoping to be wrong with this particular film.  Sadly, the movie just doesn’t deliver like the last film did (or, the first film in this trilogy, “El Mariachi”) on many fronts.  This time around, Banderas’ character is still just hangin’ out in Mexico when a CIA man (Johnny Depp) comes to town looking to enlist the former mariachi as they try to cut off a presidential coup before it’s too late.

The plot is simply too involved for a film that is supposed to be a Mexican spaghetti western; the CIA and the FBI have guys involved, there are double-crosses, and Important People that must be killed for the greater good.  What you get, then, is a movie where the lead good guy and his woman are in something like a third of the final movie.  Where are they?  Hayek is in something like four scenes, and in the only one worth noting (a dream sequence where the couple must escape by rappelling down a building using a power line), it was probably a stunt double doing all of her work.  Depp is the saving grace of this picture—man, he’s having himself quite a year—but the decision by do-everything director Robert Rodriguez to have Depp’s character have an accident prior to the third act is calamitous.  The FBI character played by Ruben Blades is completely useless; Mickey Rourke shows up with nothing at all interesting to do; Willem Dafoe apparently has Mexican makeup on as he strolls through his scenes, and even HIS character is useless.  Eva Mendes shows up—useless!!  Enrique Iglesias shows up—useless!

And, in the most baffling move of at least this year, and maybe beyond, two of the actors that played killed characters in the first movie are alive in “…Mexico”!!  Danny Trejo, who played the knife-wielding assassin who is gunned down from “Desperado”, is alive and kicking in “…Mexico”, and Cheech plays a character in “…Mexico” after his character in “Desperado” was shot in the face.  Were there not two other actors available to play these parts?  I can’t believe that no one is talking about this.  Imagine the third “Die Hard” where Alan Rickman plays the Sam Jackson character; sure, maybe Rickman is playing a new character, but he died in the first movie!!  What the fuck??

The action in “…Mexico” just isn’t as tough as it was in “Desperado”; a motorcycle chase scene falls flat, a riot near the end of the film isn’t quite right, and the end shootout has everything…except a good shootout.  Did I already mention that Hayek and Banderas have no sex scenes?  Bad move…

Some occasional laughs and more strong work by Johnny Depp make this passable…but, on the big screen, it doesn’t really do this franchise justice.  Maybe Rodriguez should consider not handling every single level of the production; he wrote, produced, edited, shot, and directed this film, and the fatigue shows in the final product.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09