Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

once2“Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” an obvious homage to the westerns of Sergio Leone in every respect would be such a good movie, were it not so utterly ridiculous and laden with sheer stupidity and nonsense. I’m just so disappointed because I’m not sure what happened to Robert Rodriguez or what he was on at the time he wrote this but this is not his usual satisfactory storytelling, a note that left me asking “What happened?” I wasn’t sure whether this would be described as a sequel or a prequel and if this even left off from “Desperado” storyline continuity, because it stars Antonio Banderas re-claiming his role as el mariachi, but other than that, I was lost.

If you know what the plot to this movie is, then you’re already five steps ahead of me, because I was just lost when I was watching, just completely lost. The problem (among so many) in this movie is that there are just too many sub-plots to watch. Two of Rodriguez’ faults in his movies and scripts is that he has so many characters on-screen and no character set-up or resolution. Instead of focusing on the actual character of the story and his quest for vengeance there are sub-plots that are scattered every which way, characters who have their own agenda that never connect the sub plots into one, and of course there’s just no focus on the actual main character because of that fact. We have El Mariachi, a man whom the authorities and criminals want in Mexico, they want him so they hire bounty hunters and they even raid his village, so why isn’t he focused on?

We’re given his sub-plot that has nothing of interest to it, the fact that I’m referring to his plot as a sub-plot makes no sense, but still we’re given these very confusing flashbacks between he and Hayek’s character. Hayek barely has a role here to begin with by the way, she appears maybe about five times and that’s basically it, and when she’s on screen she has no dialogue and a lot of action, so the romance between the two is vapid. The first of many very confusing flashbacks makes for a lot of gaping plot holes that show Mariachi and his wife lying in bed and he awakes to discover they’ve been chained at the wrist, now if he’s such a skilled warrior with lightning fast reflexes, how did they, or anyone manage to chain them together? But nonetheless, they’re chained together, and they’re chained by the wrist, so here’s another question: why if able to chain them together couldn’t they just have walked into their room and killed them both? But, I digress.

They awake with their window wide open, but they manage to escape by swinging along a building. The chaining of the two within itself is half-assed as well because they have one chain connected to each other’s wrist, no leg chains, and no attachments to keep them sluggish. We go back and forth from past to present so much that I was just confused to the point where I wasn’t sure what scenes were present day and what scenes weren’t, anymore because the storytelling is just so sloppy and scattered. There’s also simply no room here for character development because the subplots here are rapid fire, the scenes are inter-cut and sloppy not to mention the action that distracts the dialogue. There’s so many characters that the actual central character, Banderas, gets very little screen time.

Depp is surely the best thing in this movie. Believe the hype, believe everything you’ve heard about Depp’s performance, because good lord, he saves this movie with his electrifying and utterly charismatic performance as the great villain Agent Sands who is just the driving force in the film that make no utter sense. With his shades, long black hair, and outfits that make him look like he jumped off of a Tarantino film and a comic book, this guy has it, and it’s no wonder a majority of the film takes the focus off of El Mariachi and onto Agent Sands. Depp manages to make the movie his own co-starring el mariachi and it’s sad, while pretty interesting, because Depp commands the audiences attention with his smirks, mannerisms and sheer delivery of his lines. My favorite being his little monologue about his favorite pork dish and how he will restore balance after he’s finished eating it.

Rodriguez is a great director. After the much hyped performance of Johnny Depp in Robert Rodriguez’ third foray into the territory of El Mariachi, I took it upon myself to see what the big deal was and again I was reminded that hype isn’t everything. So, there are a lot of things happening here that the story is just very hard to follow or become involved in, so the characters take large personality shifts by the climax. Depp’s character is an intimidating and creepy presence throughout the film and then becomes just comedic and goofy by the end, Eva Mendes a very attractive and interesting character has no plot, and Dafoe and Rourke are brutally under-used with nothing much to do here except scowl and have their moments that are just so dull and bland. The action which is basically the primary motive for this film is cartoonish and really ridiculous that I just wasn’t excited. We have Banderas’ character shooting people and then they fly in the air onto something that explodes.

Now I’ve never fired a gun or held a gun, but as far as logic and physics go, I’m pretty sure people don’t fly fifty feet in the air after being shot. Banderas’ character shoots people with such power they fly when shot, but when other characters go off the handle shooting, nothing happens. Perhaps it’s magic. Regardless by the end Rodriguez has simply no control over the characters and all the sub-plots come crashing together in a horrible sequence and El Mariachi rides off into the sunset. I just wish I’d gotten to see more of him before he did. While Depp steals the show with his supporting performance, and Rodriguez brings his usual dark action tone and talents to the table, this is basically a disappointment with a nonsensical plot, ridiculous action, and a plot that goes nowhere really fast.

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