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Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

  Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo
Links: Once Upon a Time in Mexico on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Action

This movie gets: 5.67 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked 146th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) is also mentioned in pearly's review of El Mariachi (1992).

"Too much" - a review by pearly

And so we are presented with the next follow-up to Robert Rodriguez's earlier El Mariachi (1992) and Desperado (1995). It is some number of years later, and the mariachi has been through a great deal. The film opens in a similar fashion to Desperado, with big conversations involving bartenders and strange characters which we are yet to be introduced to. This time around, the strange character is Sands (Johnny Depp).

Once Upon a Time in Mexico picks up the tale told in Desperado, but there is a lengthy gap between the two, and these gaps are filled in little bit by little bit throughout the film. On top of this, the story itself, which is told basically in chronological order, does not offer up all of the key information at the beginning. This is, of course, not an uncommon storytelling technique for a film, and it usually adds to the interest, as you wonder how this person is connected to that, and so on. However, I feel that in this case, with all these bits of story waiting to come together, it all became far too convoluted and didn't lead to a very satisfying viewing.

In short, Once Upon a Time in Mexico was trying to be too clever, where the films that came before it were a lot simpler. Cleverness is all well and good, but I think what Rodriguez does best is stylin' and dealing out cool lines for his characters to say.

The main additions to the cast for this film are Depp and Willem Dafoe. Depp has the best lines of everyone in the film, which makes him one of the better characters, but for some reason, I felt that he didn't really fit in properly in this setting. It didn't click for me somehow, which is odd, because usually I think Depp does a wonderful job at adapting to any situation. I had a similar feeling with Dafoe, but perhaps a little less so. Of course, this does not bode well; it made the whole film slightly unbalanced and not as easy to just fall into.

Better luck next time.

pearly gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 9 Jul 2004

"Right up there with soggy nachos" - a review by freddy

I must admit, I was pumped for this flick — particularly after I won free tickets to a preview.

And it started well — a funny little scene between Johnny Depp (who really is the star of the film) and Cheech Marin, who's all smart arse grin and bad guy eye patch.

Then there was a rollicking old musical credit sequence, with El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) playing the guitar. Antonio playing the guitar during the credits was about as inevitable as the fact that I would use a Mexican food simile in the title of this review. Anyway, it was pretty entertaining stuff so far.

Unfortunately, after that it was all downhill.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the third of a trilogy that began with El Mariachi (1992), the legendary low-budget film that launched writer-director Robert Rodriguez's career, and continued with Desperado (1995). Those two films were great entertainers, because they stayed simple — basically a whole lot of blokes shooting each other, and the occasional beautiful woman sashaying across the screen to distract the villain.

I like Robert Rodriguez's style — particularly in the actual credits (‘Shot, chopped and scored by Robert Rodriguez’. it tells us). But this film really does no justice to his ability as a director. I think that's because he tries to be too much of a writer, when his strength is post-screenplay work. Indeed, the camera work is inventive, the editing skilful and the musical score is suitably, well, Mexican. It's just the damn stinkin' script.

The thing is, there's all this long-winded crap about government coups, murders years ago, the CIA, the FBI, drug barons, and it's nothing we haven't seen before. So it just gets in the way of the fun action. And the longer the film runs, the more messy plot there is, and the less fun it is to watch.

So in spite of some good shootouts, the occasional witty one-liner and some good work by Johnny Depp, I really just wanted it to end. I was bored, and you would be too.

That's not to mention some pretty shabby supporting actors. Enrique Iglesias, in what will surely be his last film role, has one facial expression. Willem Dafoe is a far from convincing Mexican. And Mickey Rourke, well, he just looks terrible. I guess that's what happens when you spend a few decades shooting up, getting into boxing and generally self-destructing.

So like I said, this film is right up there with soggy nachos — they look promising, but by the end, you've just had enough.

freddy gives this movie 5 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 5 Mar 2004

"I still don't know" - a review by mino

There is a certain subsection of the movie-going population that considers the fact that Robert Rodriguez is involved in the production of a movie to be cause enough to see it. While Rodriguez's career is considered rather patchy by some, I have yet to see something of his I didn't like. Yep — you know that 1% of the population who liked From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)? I was one of them. Hell, come to think of it, you know that one guy in the whole wide world who liked Four Rooms (1995)? Yeah, that was me. I'll add a caveat that I've only seen the delightful Spy Kids (2001), not its rather more ordinary-looking sequels; but I consider Rodriguez to be a very fine filmmaker indeed.

I'm sure there's a certain subsection of the population that considers the appearance of Antonio Banderas to be cause enough to see a movie, too. I preclude myself from that subsection, but happily include myself in the corresponding fanclub of Johnny Depp. With all these target markets to aim at, there will be a lot of people expecting a lot of things from Once Upon A Time In Mexico, the final element of Rodriguez's ‘Mariachi Trilogy’, which began with El Mariachi (1992) and continued with Desperado (1995).

Will they be happy with what they see? Honestly, I don't know. Once Upon A Time In Mexico is such a mixed bag that it's very hard to say.

While, at its best, Mexico contains some scenes equal to anything in Rodriguez's previous Mariachi films, on the whole it's so inconsistent that it's hard to be very glowing about it. Parts of it have that trademark humour, bordering on the surreal, running through the outlandish action sequences; a lot of other parts, though, take it too far and end up being just plain silly. Rodriguez's knack for getting the most out of his stars works wonderfully on Depp, but kind of fails on Banderas, who seemed to be there purely in order to collect his pay and go back home again. The whole movie rides a bit of a wave — the start is dull, it gets better as the (increasingly complex) plot is built up, goes a bit too strange, and then wraps up fairly well.

Depp, who plays a rather shifty CIA agent named Sands, steals the show here (as he so often does). Getting wind of a planned coup d'état in Mexico, organised by local crime lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe), Sands tries to put his own pieces into play and reorganise events to suit his own ends (which may be the needs of his employers too, but that's certainly far from clear — he's nothing if not a wildcard). One chunk of these plans involves hiring the legendary guitar player/gunslinger El Mariachi (Banderas) to wreak some havoc while the coup is taking place. El (as he's occasionally known) has his own agenda, involving revenge for the death of his beloved wife, played by Salma Hayek — only a fairly minor character, despite what the advertising would have you believe.

For people who only joined the trilogy with the English-language Desperado, rather than the Spanish-language El Mariachi, things may be a little confusing here. If you knew that Mexico followed Desperado, and had some of the same characters, you'd be forgiven for going in expecting a sequel. That's not, however, what this is. As Desperado was to the film before, this film is not so much a sequel as a — I don't know the word. Perhaps ‘reimagining’? It doesn't follow on, and it has some of the same elements, but it's not a remake. It's almost as if it were another story set in the same world. A ‘variation on a theme’, perhaps? However, there's enough parallels between the three films that if you haven't seen one of the earlier ones, you may be a little lost at first.

While Dafoe might seem an odd choice to play a Mexican, and the appearance of the name Enrique Iglesias in the credits might raise a few eyebrows, both are actually quite good. There are those who aren't that good — Eva Mendes, as Sands' partner, springs to mind, and there are a couple of others — but thankfully they're mostly confined to fairly minor roles. Mickey Rourke, I'm reserving judgement on; I'm really not sure if he does a good job here or not. I think not, but he does have some very good scenes.

As did Desperado, Mexico goes a little bit more crazy, and gets rather more outlandish. The plot is crazier, the stunts even more fanciful, the violence even more exaggerated and comic-book-like, and the dialogue more deliberately silly. I'm glad this is (apparently) set to be the last film; if not, I'm sure we could look forward to Banderas' Mariachi riding a spaceship to Betelgeuse or something next time out.

While I was left with a lot of confused feelings about the film, on the whole I think I rather liked it. The final act was enough to redeem the previous transgressions, and the whole movie was enough fun that I was even distracted from the rather disconcerting fact that, like in Traffic (2000), everything is shot through a profoundly irritating yellow filter. Is Mexico really that yellow? I think not.

I dunno. Maybe everyone in Mexico wears BluBlocker sunglasses, and Rodriguez is just trying to recreate that for us.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 27 Feb 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 3
Average rating: 5.67
Lowest rating: 5 (by freddy)
Highest rating: 6 (by pearly, mino)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. Dude.. this sucked.. when the only good action scenes are in FLASHBACKS.. well. Depp was awesome; especially the bullfight scene, with his CIA t-shirt on.

    Spy Kids 3-D is soooooo much better.

    Rating given: 2

    A comment from Are Alive on Tue 02 Mar 2004 11:55 #


    A comment from melissa on Wed 31 Aug 2005 10:58 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 2.00 (1 rating)

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