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robert rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi series has been the delight of Tarantino fans, as well as the general public. While never being a huge box office success (Desperado only pulled in about $25 million dollars in it’s domestic run in 1995) the series has won over the heart of fans who love the blast-tastic (yes I made a word up) gun battles and over the top violence that borders on the line between extreme and campy. Whereas Desperado was a delight to watch, Once Upon a Time in Mexico has its moments, but ultimately will fail to impress any series’ newcomer or bring back heart-warming nostalgia for any fan.

Once Upon A Time brings the focus away from El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and places it on Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) and his quest to bring down a drug kingpin (Willem Dafoe) and eliminate an overzealous general who would like to step into the shoes of the President. This is the cliff notes version of the movie, but once you sit down and try to read the whole thing it comes out in spurts and with so much inconsistency you could have sworn you were having a post-Taco Bell bowel movement. Sands enlists El Mariachi to take care of General Marquez, a man who killed his bride and daughter after the events in the second film. We are then introduced to a retired FBI agent (Ruben Blades), a beautiful Mexican agent (Eva Mendes), an American working for our favorite drug lord (Mickey Rourke), as well as many other characters with different degrees of impact on the story.

The whole problem with the film is there are so many storylines branching off of Sands that it becomes so convoluted you forget who is backstabbing who and just watch as the bullets fly. Rodriguez’s story, or lack of one, once again has El Mariachi losing another woman to a gun battle in almost the same way as he did in the first film in the series. The guy should wear a sign that warns women they may be seriously injured if they fall in love with him. In fact it almost seems ludicrous to give Selma Hayek second billing when she is in the movie for a total of 5 minutes. Granted those 5 minutes include a sultry Carolina armed with throwing knives, but still.

The film isn’t for the faint of heart either. Rodriguez seems to have some fascination with empty eye sockets because one character has both eyes ripped out, and another stashes hidden notes in his empty hole. The ladder incident leads to one of the films funniest jokes. Then throw in the head shots and flying blood you could rival Freddy vs. Jason as the goriest film of the year.

When all is said and done the film doesn’t even feel complete. Could it be from the lack of anything coherent to follow, or from the fact that this is nothing more than a way to bring one of the coolest characters to grace the silver screen back and then shove him in the SNL-like-ensemble of action movies complete with a band? As much as I liked Desperado, I really wanted to like Once Upon a Time in Mexico because of the pedigree of writer/director Rodriguez and that of the cast (sans Banderas’ embarrassing work in Ballistic).

As I stated before, fans of the series may find little to remind themselves of Desperado, but that film was made eight years ago when movies weren’t as commercialized and stories meant more than how many heads we can see explode on-screen or how we can make the audience cringe. Once Upon a Time belonged in the July time frame when we didn’t care about this type of stuff, we, as moviegoers, just wanted to sit back and relax, but now something cerebral has to come our way or we may just stay home and see what a new season of TV has to offer.