Retro Review: Once Upon a Time in Mexico

“So tell me are you a Mexi“can” or a Mexi“can’t”?”, Johnny Depp’s anti-hero Sands sputters to bad guy Cucuy (Danny Trejo).

That lone quote sets the tone for the latest from self-styled director Robert Rodriguez who continues his series of the legendary guitar-player with heavy artillery, El Mariachi.

This third film in the series finds El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) reflecting back on his life when he is coaxed out of retirement by deep CIA operative Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) to help stop the assassination of the Mexican president by a sadistic General who El Mariachi has a vendetta upon.

Thrown into the mix are a troubled FBI Agent (Ruben Blades), a United States fugitive (Mickey Rourke), a mad drug kingpin (Willem Dafoe) and some of Mariachi’s gun toting buddies (one played by singer Enrique Igelsias).

This film is the perfect example of flash over substance. The direction of Rodriguez is flashy, gutsy and flourishes in a lot of areas but leaves the story cold in its conveyance.

In other words the plot details and subplots become muddled and are utterly useless in the barrage of stylized direction.

We want this to be an action thriller with smart dialogue and shocking subplots but instead we get none of that. Rodriguez instead uses humor as super-glue to hold his film together.

He also uses the charisma of Depp to give the film some credibility. Depp is charming, devious and an utter delight to watch but it’s a shame the film doesn’t capitalize on his amazing performance.

The junk around Depp still makes me scratch my head. Who was Eva Mendes playing and why did she fit into this mess? Were any of the plots really solved except for the Mariachi story?

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film but rather enjoyed slivers of it. For me Depp is the only reason to watch this. He is amazing but one performance in a losing cause isn’t worth it.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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