In Desperado, Robert Rodriguez dedicates himself almost exclusively to dreaming up a hundred new ways to blow people away, to ultimately diminishing returns. The young Tex-Mex director’s much-anticipated follow-up to his wildly inventive no-budget 1993 debut, EI Mariachi, could scarcely be more dazzling on a purely visual level, but it’s mortally anaemic in the story, character and thematic departments.
In Desperado, the additional influences of John Woo and, especially, Quentin Tarantino also come into play, with latter on hand to personally approve Rodriguez’s application to the Club of Cool. Result is both a rehash and extension of EI Mariachi, with more than a thousandfold upgrade in budget and technical know-how.
Opening stretch is near-brilliant in its audaciousness. A brash gringo (indie fave Steve Buscemi) struts into a Mexican dive, sits at the bar and relates to the assembled lowlifes what he just saw happen at another cantina, where a mysterious stranger wiped everyone out.
The stranger, of course, is El Mariachi, now played by the never-more-handsome Antonio Banderas, a guitar-strummer wandering the country seeking a job and carrying heavy artillery in his guitar case as he seeks revenge for the murder of the woman he loved. El Mariachi eventually walks into bartender Cheech Marin’s joint, which is a front for drug dealer Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida).
But there’s at least an hour to go and the entire plot consists of El Mariachi trying to nail the well-protected Bucho, while Bucho’s men try to ambush him. Along the way, El Mariachi forms an amorous alliance with local beauty Carolina (sexy Salma Hayek) that proves momentarily diverting.