Release: September 12, 2003
by Kevin Lang
If you are familiar with director Robert Rodriguez's two previous El Mariachi films (this is a sequel to 1992's "El Mariachi" and to 1995's "Desperado"), then you would expect "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" to be the same type of film, full of cool gun slinging action, spun together with a Mexican twist.
"Once Upon a Time in Mexico" indeed delivered this same "El Mariachi" style, but wrapped it up in a story that was somewhat convoluted, partially due to its overabundance of characters.
Several interrelated storylines developed concurrently in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." Retired FBI Agent Jorge (Ruben Blades) wanted to avenge his partner's murder by taking down the drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe). Agent Jorge was urged to do so by the crooked CIA Agent Sands played by Johnny Depp. Sands wanted Barillo distracted so that he could intercept Barillo's payoff money to General Marquez, who was using his army to kill the President for Barillo. With the current President out of the picture, Barillo could traffic his drugs without interruption. Then there was Antonio Banderas's character, El Mariachi (El), who was after General Marquez for the murder of his wife and child, which we eventually learned about through flashbacks. In the meantime, El Mariachi was hired by Sands (Depp) to attempt to kill the President. Confused yet?
El Mariachi's story and the others were backdrops to the movie's most memorable aspect, Johnny Depp's unique performance as CIA Agent Sands. To say that Depp (now 40) stole the show is almost an understatement. His performance eclipsed all the others in the film, even that of critically respected actor Willem Dafoe. Sands was the most original character in the film, around whom much of the movie revolved. He was clearly a bad guy, but at the same time he provided nearly all of the film's comic relief. He wore shirts with sayings like "I'm with stupid" and "CIA: Cleavage Inspection Agency". He met his contacts in bars. He always ordered the same meal, and he kept an artificial arm resting on the table while his real arm was underneath with a gun pointing at his target. Even when Sands was badly injured at the end, Depp still delivered the same twisted humor that made us fear Sands, but like him nonetheless. Watching him during the film's climax was easily the most memorable part of the movie.
In the end, if we
were calling it "The Johnny Depp Show," then the film would
get an easy A. The story as a whole however was mildly enjoyable with
a decent amount of good-looking action, minus the overuse of wires to
propel character's bodies after being shot. Basically, if you are a hardcore
fan of action movies or Johnny Depp, then see this movie. Otherwise, wait
for it to arrive on video.
"Once Upon a Time in Mexico" Review written September 7, 2003, CTF.
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