วันพฤหัสบดีที่ 19 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2552

once upon a time in mexico (2003)

)nce Upon a Time in Mexico is one long, bloody jeer at the universe. The final picture in Robert Rodriguez' Mariachi trilogy, which includes 1992's El Mariachi and 1995's Desperado, undercuts its own charisma.

It was fun to watch guitar-strumming Antonio Banderas team with sexy Salma Hayek in Desperado as they kicked butt for justice, like watching a Latino James Bond and his Bond girl in acrobatic action. Desperado was a feverish satire with a distinctly Hispanic sense of fatalism. The dazzling romantic gunplay between Hayek and Banderas was the reward.

Hayek and Banderas are all but gone in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Somebody ought to clock Banderas' screen time, which seems like 20 minutes. Forget the picture's busty billboard ads: Hayek's curvy moves amount to a cameo.

Instead, 11 years after writer and director Rodriguez made El Mariachi, he has decided to darken the series' tone with explicit nihilism. A romp with nothingness disarms Rodriguez of the finest weapon for executing taut action—a reason to kill.

The random blood flood robs Mexico of any sustained sense of fun. Where there was high-flying romance on the run, Rodriguez substitutes Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe. This only adds to Mexico's pretentiousness. The plot—essentially the same as before: drug lords, double crosses and mistaken identity—is predictable. Its banality is only disrupted by Depp's campy killer.

Banderas and Hayek are fine in their small roles. Dafoe and Depp are not. Dafoe is caked in makeup and his Spanish is as convincing as John Ashcroft in a sombrero. Depp is bothersome—his undercover CIA character wears t-shirts emblazoned with phrases such as "I'm With Stupid" (the arrow points to his crotch), and he fires off one-liners like he's on Comedy Central. Depp's not acting. He's putting us on.

Depp's screen persona ranges wildly from street hustler to Jack Nicholson. In a climactic scene, he first resembles Michael Jackson and winds up looking like Marilyn Manson—and we're supposed to like him. If this is acting, somebody retroactively give Faye Dunaway an Oscar for Mommie Dearest.

Depp is not alone. Enrique Iglesias as Banderas's whiny gunmate and Eva Mendes as a bosomy agent really do add insult to injury. Singer Iglesias's role is restricted to a pouty look and an affinity for the "f" word. The less said about Mendes the better. Each character speaks three languages: Spanish with English subtitles, English and something in between. Sometimes, a character speaks all three in one scene. Subtitles surface as frequently, and as annoyingly, as pop-ups.

Except for veteran Banderas, no one exhibits composure amidst the chaos—there is only campy, crummy acting.

It is fitting that what is central to Mexico's prototypical girl, whether Hayek or Mendes, mirrors the movie's unabashed theme: death. Like its cinematic cousin Pulp Fiction, Mexico exhorts us to worship death as the highest value. Banderas's robotic character is constantly reminded that he's already dead.

Rodriguez has made the logical next step in his trilogy, minus the wink that lets us in on the joke. By the time the curtain closes, the result is neither funny nor original: bloody limbs, eye sockets and the skinned face of death.


Once Upon a Time in Mexico has everything it needs to rise to the grand occasion the film’s title suggests. And written on the theater marquee, the title resonates nicely with two classic Sergio Leone epics, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America. Director Robert Rodriguez has his El Mariachi / Desperado trilogy in the right place to deliver on such a grandiose promise: the lead character comes to the film with a tragic history and a cult following. The cast qualifies as “all-star,” featuring matinee pretty boys, sultry Latin ladies and some of Hollywood’s most recognizable baddies. The characters run a larger-than-life gamut of legends, presidents, corrupt government agents, and cartel leaders, each with enough grudges, ferocity, and posse to start a professional wrestling federation.

But Leone developed similar elements into films that ran more than three hours. Rodriguez packs it all into 97 minutes and can’t help but give only suggestions of a plot and impressions of the forces that drive it. Nevertheless, once the bullets start flying and the one-liners start ricocheting, it doesn’t matter much that Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a confusing mess of a film. When it works, you don’t care about all the times it doesn’t.

The story, such as it is, goes something like this: the Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) is forced out of quiet retirement by the slithering, corrupt CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp), who asks him to intervene in an assassination attempt on the president of Mexico. Sands reports that the murder will take place during a coup attempt by General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) – a man in love with the Mariachi’s wife (Salma Hayek) and the only person who can compel him to kill again. The coup and assassination is orchestrated by Barilla (Willem Dafoe), the popular leader of a powerful drug cartel who has his sights set on ascending to the presidency. But Sands has also set in motion Jorge (Ruben Blades), a retired FBI agent with a beef to settle with Barilla, hoping to further confuse the attempt on the president so he escape with the 20 million pesos promised to General Marquez.

That’s a lot of stories to keep straight, but after his initial attempts Rodriguez doesn’t even try. Once he starts slapping the plot together the only way you can tell what is motivating a character is by who he's got his gun pointed at. Exciting shootouts are the only constant in this chaos and a phalanx of weapons blow through much of the narrative mumbo-jumbo thrown at the audience. Shrapnel flies through the air like rice at a wedding. Bodies are indiscriminately crushed behind semi trucks, buses, tanks, etc. Faces are removed, eyes are gouged, throats are slit, and chefs are wantonly killed for making good food. Rodriguez saturates his violence with an adolescent boy’s giddy love for mayhem, and it is infectious.

Unfortunately for Banderas’s Mariachi, when things aren’t blowing up, it’s CIA agent Sands that carries the film. Depp’s presence is alone worth the price of admission. With goofy wardrobe changes, shockingly violent personality quirks and the best lines in the film (“I’ll shoot the cook. I’m parked out back.”) Depp turns Sands into Mexico’s answer to Colonel Kurtz channeling Hunter S. Thompson. Depp chews up scenery, other actors, and heaping plates of marinated pork as he swaggers through his scenes with a malevolent ease that reveals the film’s general goal of good fun.

And sloppy as it is, Once Upon a Time in Mexico somehow manages to remain fun for most of its 97 minutes. Rodriguez fans will especially appreciate the numerous references to both El Mariachi and Desperado, including a dog named Moco and a familiar young boy who becomes Sand’s guide. Others will let the pandemonium wash over them and remember it as a good time, even if they can’t remember what the hell the movie is about.