a critiQal film review Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

Rogue CIA Agent Sands (Depp) has a bold plan. He knows that the Mexican cartel, headed by Barillo (Dafoe), has sent General Marquez (Vigil) to affect a coup d'etat on the president of Mexico, and put Barillo in control of Mexico. Sands' plan: send the famous El Mariachi (Banderas) to kill General Marquez, whom El has a vendetta with - after Marquez kills the president. But when Sands' plans start to backfire, it's up to El Mariachi to do what's best for Mexico.

820 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 6s)
  • ...this Hollywood version of Desperado doesn't quite match up.

When I first heard about this sequel to Desperado (1995), I couldn’t wait to see it. But, something held me back from shelling out the cash to see Once Upon A Time In Mexico in the theaters.

Sure, Desperado was amazing, and really helped put director Robert Rodriguez on the map in Hollywood. And sure, I knew Desperado (1995) itself was a “Hollywood sequel” (even though Robert was new to big budget films back then) to El Mariachi, which Robert put together for chump change.

But, seeing the radical differences between El Mariachi and Desperado (1995), it made me take a step back from seeing this third film in the theaters.

Would the radical change continue and make me wish I had seen the further adventures of El Mariachi in the theaters, or would this continuation make Desperado (1995) a little bit worse by destroying the mystique of the characters?

I was hoping for the former, but all too often directors who go Hollywood tend to create sequels just for cash, not for the sake of the characters, and detract from the original art that the first film(s) were. I figured I had to see for myself, but I could wait until it came to DVD. Now it’s here, and so I watch.

This film series has been one of the few where the actors can switch from film to film, and the storyline keeps the audience involved anyway. Once Upon A Time In Mexico doesn’t stop that, but does bring back all the actors you remember from Desperado (1995).

Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek stay in the same roles, and do a decent job of continuing their characters, although Antonio doesn’t come close to matching his incredible performance in Desperado (1995) and Salma doesn’t get as big of a role in this film, unfortunately, so doesn’t really get a chance to showcase any of her acting abilities.

Cheech Marin is back, although this time he’s a one-eyed informer for newcomer Johnny Depp, and Danny Trejo also returns, this time as one of Sands’ hired killers, rather than the ultra cool knife-wielding assassin he was in Desperado (1995). They both turn in okay performances, but both don’t really seem to be as into their characters as they were in the previous film. No surprise visit by Quentin Tarantino this time either, unfortunately.

Newcomers Depp, Eva Mendes and Willem Dafoe seem to bring a little too much Hollywood to the film, Dafoe especially, and it detracts a bit from the independent feel that helped make Desperado (1995) so original (Maybe that’s why Dafoe walks around for part of the film wrapped in bandages – Robert realized that Dafoe showcased Hollywood so well he tried to cover him – his face anyway – up).

Once Upon A Time In Mexico had a plot that was a bit more involved than Desperado (1995), and that detracted a bit from the film as well. While a good storyline does go a long way towards involving the audience, a really complicated plot – with a lot of different characters involved – detracts from the film, since the audience will spend most of the movie trying to figure out the smaller players parts (and names) throughout the film, rather than allowing the movie to draw them in.

This film is simply another example that Robert Rodriguez has gone Hollywood. It’s starting to affect his writing now, too. While Robert Rodriguez has gone on from Desperado (1995) to direct a couple of decent movies (Spy Kids (2001), Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002), etc.), they differ so greatly from his original style of “independent” films that it’s hard to tell it’s the same guy.

After the success of Desperado (1995) and From Dusk Till Dawn, Robert seems to have lost a bit of his edge, and gone a bit too commercial. How unfortunate.

All in all, while Once Upon A Time in Mexico continues along the Desperado (1995) line, it can’t even compare to the first two films of the series.

With it’s overt Hollywood influences (c’mon – Willem Dafoe after he had a big hit as the Green Goblin in the incredibly Hollywood-ized version of Spider-Man (2002) AND singing sensation Enrique Iglesias in the same film????), and an overly-complicated plot, Once Upon A Time in Mexico seems to be just an inferior imitation of Desperado (1995).

They should have ended it with Desperado (1995), but I’m sure the fans clamor (and the images of box office totals dancing through their heads) couldn’t let them do it, but they still should have resisted the temptation. I’m not saying it’s really bad. It isn’t. But it’s not good enough to be a continuation of Desperado (1995).

Still, if you’re a big fan of Desperado (1995), I’m sure you will probably rent it anyway – after all, you just have to see for yourself what happens to the characters, don’t you? I did.

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