As Johnny Depp slowly becomes the Peter Sellers of his generation—he adopts a series of disguises as a renegade C.I.A. spook in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, handling the role with a light touch of prep school smarminess—Robert Rodriguez becomes the sell-out of his. The film aspires to the mythic grandeur of Sergio Leone, but lacks the epic scope. The sham plotting can be attributed to Rodriguez rewriting his script on the set (he admitted that it was unfinished when production began). El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) is enlisted by corrupt Sands (Depp) in some elaborate scheme that involves a military coup, political assassinations, a drug kingpin played by Willem Dafoe, and a bunch of random bad guys (Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo, and Cheech Marin hiding under an eye patch). Vaguely playing all sides against each other (though it’s often difficult to tell who is on what side and what they’re trying to accomplish), El Mariachi and his two brothers rediscover their passion as Sons of Mexico and work to defend their idealistic president. Round and round we go, with shootouts that show Rodriguez’s hyperactive glee, and although it’s expertly choreographed and undeniably well-photographed (in slick digital), Mexico‘s ample bloodletting lacks purpose. Antonio Banderas kills many men, but there’s no actual feeling to this violence—which, I suppose, is the purpose of these larger-than-life operatic shootouts. As characters are mowed down like cannon fodder, the film grows increasingly rote. The final image has Banderas kissing the Mexican flag, but there’s little more than false patriotism at work here. More effective is Depp’s character, a bizarre lost soul without a country, wandering through the final third of the movie like the tragic Oedipus. As an iconic image, the actor captures the feeling of Rodriguez’s movie: blinded and shooting randomly in all directions.
- Robert Rodriguez
- Robert Rodriguez
- Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Rubén Blades, Willem Dafoe
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