Once Upon A Time In Mexico

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner2/09/2003

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Slow-moving, surprisingly light on action and occasionally confusing, this is something of a disappointment, despite yet another great performance from Depp and at least one stand-out action scene.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico is the third part in writer-director-everything-else Robert Rodriguez’ Mariachi trilogy – the title supposedly came from Quentin Tarantino during the filming of Desperado, with Mr T suggesting that the three films would be Rodriguez’ ‘Dollars trilogy’ (the title is a nod to Leone).

Sadly, at a mere 100 minutes, Once Upon A Time In Mexico lacks the epic scope for the comparison to really work and the result is something of a confusing mess, though it does have its compensations.

El Mariachi Comes Out Of Retirement

Rodriguez has hinted in interviews that the audience is actually getting four movies, because a ‘third’, largely unseen, movie occurs in the flashbacks that explain what happened to El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and Carolina (Salma Hayek) after the end of Desperado.

Unfortunately, this ‘unseen’ third movie actually appears to be better than the one we get, since it contains the film’s best action sequence, a terrific, show-stopping set-piece in which Banderas and Hayek escape down the outside of a hotel whilst chained together.

The rest of the story is pretty confusing. Johnny Depp’s amoral CIA Agent Sands lures El Mariachi out of retirement and hires him to kill General Marquez, the leader of an imminent presidential coup (flashbacks explain why El Mariachi is only too happy to accept).

Marquez, in turn, has been hired by Willem Dafoe’s drug lord Barillo and Sands persuades an ex-FBI agent (Ruben Blades) to spy on Barillo, using chihuahua-carrying fugitive Billy (Mickey Rourke) as an inside man. Oh, and FBI Agent Eva Mendes (from 2 Fast 2 Furious) is also involved somehow, though it’s never too clear how.

For a Robert Rodriguez movie, there is surprisingly little action. Even the gunfights are (whisper it) somewhat tedious and not nearly as exciting as you might expect from the previous films. Similarly, with so many characters struggling for screen time, it often feels as if Banderas is hardly in it at all.

Depp Saves The Day Again

Aside from the hotel escape scene, the film’s saving grace is Johnny Depp, who delivers a deliciously quirky performance that’s not a million miles away from his Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Wearing a variety of crap disguises and occasionally sporting a t-shirt with “C.I.A” emblazoned on it, Depp gets all the best lines and, at one point, even manages to throw in a note-perfect Marlon Brando impression. There’s great support, too, particularly from Ruben Blades and Mickey Rourke (who seems to be belatedly making a habit of turning in great cameos), but also regulars such as Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo.

In short, there are too many characters for this to really work and the plot is a little confusing, if not downright boring in places – it definitely sags around the halfway mark. It’s worth seeing for Johnny Depp and the chain sequence, then, but fans of the previous films will definitely be disappointed.

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Content updated: 25/08/2019 00:36

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