Monday, March 02, 2009

Monday Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) 6/10
Former hitman El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) accepts a job offer from deranged CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) because the target is the man who killed his wife (Salma Hayek). Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

I don't usually watch cooking shows, but there was this one time I was watching Emeril, and he took out the pork he'd been cooking, and I was all "mmmm," and then he spooned the vegetable dish that he'd prepared on top of the pork and I thought "Oh wow!" and then he dished the sauce that he'd made on top of the pork and vegetables, and I thought YUM!" and then he took the lovely raw sliced somethingorother he'd made and piled it on top and I thought "ehhhh" and then he spooned ANOTHER sauce on top of THAT and I thought "Yuck."

This is exactly like watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico.


The movie is a sequel to Desperado which, in turn, followed El Mariachi (which I didn't see, but I'm told Desperado is more a remake than a sequel). Desperado is a rather elegant affair, simplistic in the beauty of its sex, violence, and cartoonish hyper-reality. It is there to be beautiful and vulgar and bold, and it strips away any unnecessary elements (like, say, dialogue) to achieve that end. There are some oddball characters weaved in (Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino), but their participation is limited. This is a movie about El Mariachi, his guns, his lover, and his guitar. Period.

Whereas Once Upon a Time in Mexico is about the kitchen sink. There's El Mariachi and his quest for revenge, and there are guns, and there's even a guitar. There's also a one-eyed bartender (Marin), a deranged CIA agent, an evil drug-runner (Willem Dafoe), an expatriate American with a little dog (Mickey Rourke), a gung-ho border patrol agent (Eva Mendes), a plot to assassinate the president of Mexico, another plot to assassinate the assassin, at least 3 different revenge plots, a depressed former FBI agent, and an alcoholic hitman.

I'm tired just typing it all.

What happens is that all the fun gets swallowed up by a movie that can't decide which fun to have. Like standing in the middle of an amusement park spinning around from all the choices, but never getting on any of the rides. Ten minutes here and ten minutes there are sections of a great movie that didn't get made. It's sloppy work.

You can't fault any of the actors, each of whom is given a chance to do a little bit (or a lot) of bravura performance. You can see why they wanted to. It looks like it was a lot of fun for them. And it's probably the kind of movie that's a lot of fun to find while channel-surfing. It's made for skimming. But to actually sit through it, intentionally watching it from beginning to end, is not, in the end, any fun.

(El cross-post)