Friday 3 June 2011

Movie Review: Desperado (1995)

All style and limited substance, but when the style is this flashy, a lot can be forgiven. Desperado is the first major Robert Rodriguez production, and it helped to propel the careers of both Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. And it doesn't hurt that Quentin Tarantino contributes an unforgettable 10 minutes to add a further injection of irreverence.

The story, a sequel to Rodriguez's El Mariachi, is the most standard revenge fare. Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, as unsettling as ever) enters a filthy bar in a small Mexican town and spins a tall tale about a heavily armed stranger on a mass-killing spree, looking for a certain gang lord called Bucho. The bar is indeed a front for Bucho's business, and the bartender (Cheech Marin) and all the supposed customers are Bucho's men.

The stranger is El Mariachi (Banderas), Buscemi's friend, and he is on a single-minded mission to kill Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), as revenge for Bucho having killed his girlfriend. El Mariachi arrives at the bar, and using the arsenal of heavy weaponry he keeps hidden in a guitar case, kills everyone in it after an ultra intense firefight. He then survives an assassination attempt by the mysterious knife-throwing Navajas (Danny Trejo) -- Buscemi is not so fortunate. El Mariachi hooks up with Carolina (Hayek), who runs a library in a town where no one reads: the library is another front for Bucho's business. After several more encounters with Bucho's men, one featuring two El Mariachi friends who also use ridiculous guitar-disguised firepower, Bucho's loyalists are annihilated and a final confrontation unfolds.

Faithful to the philosophy of never using one bullet when 20 are available, Rodriguez fills the screen with dead bodies, literally piled up at the end of every battle scene. Cleaners are brought in to mop up the rivers of blood soaking into the Mexican soil after El Mariachi is done perforating his opponents with an army's worth of ammunition. Entire wars have been fought with less firepower than is on display in Desperado.

Banderas plays his role seriously, and gets away with it, his intensity matching the action even if the revenge motivation is too flimsy to carry the amount of bloodshed. Hayek brings a sultry victimized presence to her role as Carolina, not straying too far from the eye-candy specifications but fitting perfectly into the exaggerated mayhem. Cheech Marin is quietly hilarious as the bartender, conveying emotion with a combination of eyebrow movements, burps, and undisguised glances of contemptible disgust.

Desperado is all very much tongue in cheek, never more so than when Tarantino shows up at the bar and unspools a long-winded and totally irrelevant story about a man making a bet related to long-distance pissing into a beer glass. The story is as meaningless as the film, and as ridiculously enjoyable.

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