In 1992, director Robert Rodriguez released an ultra low budget, high-octane action movie called “El Mariachi.” In 1995, he filmed a high budget remake entitled “Desperado,” starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.
Now in 2003, comes “Once Upon A Time in Mexico,” the third and final movie featuring the mysterious El Mariachi, played once again by Banderas.
But Banderas takes a sideline to much of the events in “Once Upon A Time in Mexico.” His character is one of many in a labyrinthine plot, dominated by lots and lots of cartoonish and sometimes gruesome violence. And Hayek is back, but her role is even smaller, considering her character is dead before the first scene in the movie takes place. Flashbacks bring her back for the briefest of montages and a couple wild action sequences.
The real focus of “Once Upon A Time in Mexico” is Johnny Depp. And for the second time this summer, he makes the most out an ordinary role. As he did in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Depp overpowers everybody else in the movie, and turns what could have been a lugubrious affair into an enjoyable ride.
Depp plays an obviously deranged CIA agent, who is supposed to be a bad guy. But he has so much fun playing the part that it’s impossible not to root for him. Cheesy one-liners and hilarious outfits are just part of his repertoire. Depp is already a handsome guy, and it is easy to assume that he will be the cool hero.
He plays Agent Sands, however, as a full-on dumbass with a dangerous temper. And there’s something very funny watching a man with this much power abuse it so frequently.
The rest of the movie is one crazy gun battle after another. Rodriguez’s style is way beyond the substance, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, this is not a history lesson on the perils of the Mexican government and drug trade. It’s a fantasy.
Nobody would be able to perform half the stunts that take place in “Once Upon A Time in Mexico.” This movie really is the ultra-violent thrill ride of the summer; it’s just a little late.
The story was ridiculous, as were the action sequences, and of course, Johnny Depp was extremely ridiculous. But, he finds the right tone to make “Mexico” a rousing, if sometimes overbearing, good time.