Saturday 4 June 2011

Movie Review: Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)

Robert Rodriguez concludes his El Mariachi trilogy, but bloat creeps in and the fun factor suffers at the hands of too many characters vying for space in a convoluted plot. Rodriguez is unable to follow in the footsteps of Sergio Leone's "dollars trilogy" and make the jump from enjoyable camp to delicious epic. Once Upon A Time In Mexico aims for grand elements, but never comes close to scaling the necessary heights.

El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) is recruited by CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) to assassinate the vicious General Marquez, who is conspiring with drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe) to overthrow the Mexican President. El Mariachi is eager to gain revenge on Marquez, who brutally killed his wife Carolina (Salma Hayek, seen only in flashback) and young daughter. Rattling around the thick edges of the plot are Billy Chambers (Mickey Rourke), who hangs around Barillo's compound; anti-narcotics agent Ajedrez (Eva Lopez); former FBI Agent Ramirez (Ruben Blades), and local thug leader Cucuy (Danny Trejo). Several of these characters will switch allegiances as the plot against the president progresses. And that is not all: Cheech Marin in the local informant helping Sands; the President has a double-crossing advisor; Barillo is planning face-changing plastic surgery; and El Mariachi once again calls on two heavily armed friends, Lorenzo and Fideo, who show up to join the action.

It is a rare for a movie to suffer from being too short, but Once Upon A Time In Mexico, at just over 100 minutes, simply isn't hefty enough to carry everything that is trying to happen within it. Characters are introduced in a hurry or hardly at all, events seem rushed, motivations are barely sketched in, and with so many characters vying to tell their tale, the action sequences now actually get in the way.

Johnny Depp manages to stand out as the conniving Agent Sands, but only by going so far over the top, and having his character meet such a gruesome destiny, that he forcefully etches himself into the memory. Banderas seems disengaged, and most of the other actors have too little screen time to make a lasting impression.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico offers a few moments of enjoyment, but the underground feel and wild abandonment of the earlier El Mariachi movies is gone, replaced by plot congestion caused by character cramming.

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