Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Opens Fri Sept 12
You can't fault Robert Rodriguez for his ambition. Beginning with his $7000 calling card, El Mariachi, the director has adopted an admirable handmade policy, often filling every occupational shoe in his low-budget marvels. Big daddies Lucas and Cameron aside, nobody can touch his status as Hollywood's biggest do-it-yourselfer. Credit for successes like the wondrous Spy Kids trilogy should, as such, rest almost entirely on his shoulders.
The same, unfortunately, holds true for his misses. Once Upon A Time In Mexico, his latest venture as director/writer/editor/cinematographer/composer/effects guy, is a bit of a glorious mess--exhilarating in parts, but migraine-inducing overall.
Picking up a few years after 1995's Desperado, this third (and presumably final) installment in the Mariachi series finds Antonio Banderas' vengeful guitarist blackmailed by a shady CIA agent (Johnny Depp) into interfering with an attempted plot to assassinate the Mexican President. The double-crosses soon quadruple, culminating in all-out war, and what may be the gnarliest shotgun-inflicted wound ever. Narrative coherence has never been Rodriguez's forte, but his scripts have never quite had this slapdash, 52-pickup quality before. Bad guys die repeatedly, flashbacks stumble into flash-forwards, Mickey Rourke shows up with a Chihuahua--flowcharts should be issued at the door. The increasingly manic action sequences, while undeniably rockin', only heighten the overall confusion.
Banderas brings a swoony intensity to the main character--no one else can blast bad guys into midair with his sorrowful panache--but his screen time is constantly undercut by Depp's unchecked scenery digestion. Whether this was Rodriguez's intent from the beginning, or (more likely) a studio-mandated decision following the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, it's a bit of a betrayal for Mariachi followers.
Even Depp worshippers may find their patience tested. Mexico occasionally hits heights worthy of its Sergio Leone-inspired title--a sleepy town populated solely by guitar makers here, a church-bound gunfight there, Salma Hayek anywhere--but its manic invention exhausts more than enthralls. Calm down a tad, Robert. Please.