Once Upon a Time in Mexico
The time has come.
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Running length:102 minutes
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is like the guy who has a few cool friends and brings beer to the party so that everyone will like him. Yeah, he had like one good dance move, and he’s tan and has long pretty hair and all of that, so maybe you’re expecting some amazing things when you smile at him and he comes to talk to you. But then he keeps telling the same joke over and over about guitars and guns, and you eventually lose interest because he’s saying things that don’t make sense. Do you give him your number? Naturally you do, because you node at Everything2 and there is quite the scarcity of long-haired and tanned guys in the close proximity of your computer. But you aren’t going to really mind if he doesn’t call you.
For the male and non-traditional female readers (oh, hell, for everyone that is reading this and is flailing for a much-needed clue), allow me to untangle that simile: Once Upon a Time in Mexico might make you curious, but it isn’t really worth your time, and you won’t remember it many years later the way you might remember the predecessors in the trilogy, El Mariachi and Desperado. The storyline is too weakly drawn to support its complexity, the characters are too weakly portrayed to make them interesting, and the trick with the guitar that turns into a gun isn’t really that great anymore.
Sands (Johnny Depp, who reaches perhaps a 4.8 on the coolness meter, where 10 is Pirates of the Caribbean and 1 is a movie that he was lame in, but as long as IMDB is down, I’m going to have quite the challenging time not only completing this sentence but also finishing this review) has a problem. This problem requires him to need someone very important killed. Naturally this is the sort of thing that drives plot forward, and it is fantastic that Robert Rodriguez cut to the chase so quickly, but we are never really quite sure what the problem he has is, so we don’t tend to care all that much. He is given the name of one El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas, who I have been told isn’t nearly as hot as jealous guys like me seem to think he is, but then again, I've been told I am wrong) as the man to do the killing. After a conversation with Mr. Mariachi, which is much more enjoyable if you pretend it occurs in a CWRU dining hall (no, I’m not giving away why, use your imagination or go see the movie), their relationship becomes set: Sands is going to tell El Mariachi what to do, and El Mariachi is going to be macho and pretend to ignore him. But I’m making their relationship out to be a big deal, when in fact there aren’t really any relationships that are that big of a deal in this movie. Like many other aspects of Once Upon a Time in Mexico, there are so many interesting relationships crammed into the 102 minutes that they all become boring.
Eventually after some things that don’t make any sense but involve shooting which I suppose is supposed to make us not care about the not making sense, El Mariachi assembles his crack (smoking?) team of guitar-playing assassins who are ready to bring the ruckus. There are a few flashbacks along the way that are calculated to remind us how cool El Mariachi is, but they aren’t done well enough to make them worthwhile.
Let us have a chat for just a moment about movies and life in general. There is certainly an element of the population who is interested in movies only based on their explosion and hot person content. I can understand. Some folks go to the movies just to watch things blow up, watch cool things happen, and look at some boobs and/or biceps that are 15 feet around. On the other extreme, some movie critics or film buff types try to ignore how cute the people in the movies are in the interest of being impartial. It is acting, direction, writing, editing, and the like that concerns them. How fun a movie is isn’t really related to how good a movie is. Or is it?
When you think of the people you care about most, are they the ones who were the cutest people you knew? Were they just the ones who had the most money or funniest things to say? Once Upon a Time in Mexico is flashing the guns around and this movie critic certainly can’t say he can impartially evaluate Eva Mendes’s acting when confronted by a couple of her other significant qualities, but the movie just wasn’t that fun because it just wasn’t that interesting. I wanted to know what was Johnny Depp’s character’s deal. I wanted it to rain, just once, in a movie about Mexico. I wanted characters who didn’t have the flesh and blood cut out of them so badly that I couldn’t find anything to grab onto and feel bad for once the plot started to twist in the dusty, Mexican wind. So help me, I wanted less gore and more talking.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get it. Robert Rodriguez has participated in the making of some of the coolest movies ever, but it almost feels as though Once Upon a Time in Mexico was just hanging on to cool by its fingernails. Desperado and El Mariachi fans might enjoy their last look at the franchise, but others should instead consider going for the seventeenth time to see Pirates of the Caribbean.