×

Desperado

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 "El Mariachi" could scarcely be more dazzling on a purely visual level, but it's mortally anemic in the story, character and thematic departments.

With:
El Mariachi ... Antonio Banderas Carolina ... Salma Hayek Bucho ... Joaquim de Almeida Short Bartender ... Cheech Marin Buscemi ... Steve Buscemi Right Hand ... Carlos Gomez Pick-up Guy ... Quentin Tarantino

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 “El Mariachi” could scarcely be more dazzling on a purely visual level, but it’s mortally anemic in the story, character and thematic departments.

Helmer’s stylistic gifts are amply confirmed by this action-filled bloodbath, and pic’s ultra-hip profile and hot cast foretell good domestic B.O. with young action auds and even better biz overseas.

Allegedly produced for $ 7,000 before Columbia picked it up and technically enhanced it, “El Mariachi” was one of the unique film successes of recent times. Although met by modest commercial success, the tale of an itinerant guitar player drawn into drug-world violence in a dusty Mexican town played like a valid update of Japanese samurai sagas and bounty-hunter Westerns informed by the heightened violence of Sam Peckinpah and the witty stylistic exaggeration of Sergio Leone.

In “Desperado,” the 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 “El Mariachi,” with a major upgrade in budget and technical know-how, but no forward movement in storytelling ability.

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 crowd gets even more interested when the yanqui mentions that the gun-toting vagabond is looking for a fellow named Bucho and may be headed this way.

The stranger of course, is El Mariachi, now played by the never-more-handsome Antonio Banderas, a guitar-strummer wandering the country with heavy artillery in his guitar case, seeking revenge for the murder of the woman he loved. The traumatic event from the first film is seen via an unusual restaged flashback with Banderas.

El Mariachi eventually walks into bartender Cheech Marin’s joint, which is a front for drug dealer Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), triggering a scene of choreographed gunplay in which an untold number of scummy henchmen get splattered against the ceiling, walls and floor. Anyone with a taste for high-ballistic violence and the action-painting school of filmmaking will be drooling with delight well before the guns begin to cool.

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. But the violent confrontations become numbing and ultimately dismaying when it becomes clear that the filmmaker mainly is interested in inventing clever new ways for a lone gunman to beat staggering odds.

Worse, El Mariachi gains no stature or depth as a character and, crucially for a nomadic loner, is given no moral code to govern his extreme, obsessive behavior. Parallel lack of any moral grounding or p.o.v. on the massive carnage also lays the film open to charges of sensationalizing violence for its own sake.

On a plot level, Rodriguez makes the crucial mistake of killing off virtually his entire cast of would-be important characters. On the basis of “Desperado,” what Rodriguez needs is a collaborator on story and script. Like Leone, the director is particularly adept at staging dramatic entrances, intimidating posturing and inventive violence, and there is no question of an imagination working overtime.

Banderas cuts a devastatingly attractive figure, which will help somewhat to draw women to the pic. Hayek makes for a perfect physical match, and de Almeida is suavely ruthless as the drug baron.

Tech contributions are splashy and superlative, dousing the weather-beaten little town in a fiesta of color and light. Soundtrack is peppy.

Desperado

(Action drama -- Color)

Production: A Columbia release of a Los Hooligans production. Produced by Robert Rodriguez, Bill Borden. Co-producers, Elizabeth Avellan, Carlos Gallardo. Directed, written, edited by Robert Rodriguez.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Guillermo Navarro; music, Los Lobos; music supervisor, Karyn Rachtman; production design, Cecilia Montiel; art direction, Felipe Fernandez del Paso; costume design, Graciela Mazon; sound (Dolby SR), Mark Ulano; assistant director, Sebastian Gaetano Silva; casting, Reuben Cannon. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, May 10, 1995. (In Cannes Film Festival -- midnight screening.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 103 min.

With: El Mariachi ... Antonio Banderas Carolina ... Salma Hayek Bucho ... Joaquim de Almeida Short Bartender ... Cheech Marin Buscemi ... Steve Buscemi Right Hand ... Carlos Gomez Pick-up Guy ... Quentin Tarantino

More Film

  • BAFTA Backs BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training for

    BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training Rolls Out to BAFTA Voters, Wider Industry (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British Independent Film Awards is opening up its unconscious-bias training to BAFTA voters and, more widely, to anyone who judges the work of others in the film and TV business in the U.K. With the makeup of award-nominee and -winner lists under close scrutiny, BIFA introduced its unconscious-bias training last year. Its voters, jurors, [...]

  • Instinct

    Carice van Houten's 'Instinct' Picked Up By Films Boutique (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based international sales agent Films Boutique has picked up psychological thriller “Instinct,” starring Carice van Houten, who received an Emmy nomination Tuesday for “Game of Thrones,” and Marwan Kenzari, recently seen in Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin.” “Instinct” has its world premiere on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival next month. “Instinct,” the directorial debut [...]

  • If Only - Ginevra Elkann

    Locarno Announces Edgy Mix of Premieres, Joseph Gordon-Levitt Thriller '7500'

    Italian director Ginevra Elkann’s directorial debut, “If Only,” about kids with divorced parents, will open the 72nd Locarno Film Festival, its first edition under new artistic director Lili Hinstin, who has assembled an edgy mix of promising titles from young auteurs and more established names. “If Only” and the fest closer, iconic Japanese director Kiyoshi [...]

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up fromchief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software and technology [...]

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content