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IN SHORT: Ah to be 16 again. [Rated R for strong violence and language. 105 minutes]
'cuz if we were, and still had the full complement of functioning brain cells, Once Upon A Time In Mexico may have been as comprehensible (as well as equally funny and violent) as a Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. 'Toonheads won't miss the parallels to that story of a dark avenger returning from retirement. Everyone else will link the graphic violence found within this story to things like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. It's appropriate as Tarantino was a major cheerleader for writer/director Robert Rodriguez' vision, a trilogy of films that began with El Mariachi and continued in Desperado is now complete. In this film world, knee caps and facial parts get taken out in equally beautifully photographed graphic violence. There are far too many characters with their own stories being thrown at you while the bullets fly for our decayed brain to easily follow. What the hell the main story is we couldn't tell you, other than a couple of tales of revenge run side by side while all characters unleash enough firepower to level a small town.
As funny as it is violent, Once Upon A Time In Mexico details the, for lack of a better description, rise and fall of professional criminals in that land. Rodriguez thankfully avoids the usual sequel-itis of repeating the same story again and again. While Salma Hayek played a larger part in Desperado, she exists only in flashback now, which pretty much gets you started on why El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) spends most of his time plucking mournfully on his guitar, out in the hinterlands far from the authorities. Once Upon A Time In Mexico functions well all by its lonesome. You needn't have seen any predecessor to get up to speed, thanks to a running description of who's who and what's what by the one eyed Belini (Cheech Marin)
We'll save you some time . . .
The President of Mexico (Pedro Armendariz) fancies himself to be a man of the people. Unfortunately the people with power don't care much for his fancy. Armando Barilla (Willem Dafoe) bought all the land in northern Mexico and gave it back to the peasants. They love him. He loves the drug business and would prefer that military general Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) run the country.
CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) doesn't care much for El Presidente, either. He searches out a legendary killer, El Mariachi (Banderas) and makes an offer the man can't refuse. Sands also searches out ex-FBI man Jorge (Rubén Blades) whose son died at the orders of the untouchable Barilla. Not untouchable and previously unknown to Jorge is the news that Dr. Guevara (Miguel Couturier) was responsible for the torture and killing. The only way to crack that nugget is to get past Barilla's enforcer Billy Chambers (Mickey Rourke) and his doggie.
Since it's El Mariachi's story, everything links through Marquez, who killed the dude's wife (Hayek) and kidlet. Eva Mendes plays a Mexican Fed involved with Depp and Dafoe in ways we're not even going to try to explain. El Mariachi's sidemen (Enrique Iglesias and Marco Leonardi) provide extra firepower. An equally vicious scoundrel, one Cucuy (Danny Trejo) keeps switching sides despite a long held acrimonious attitude towards our Hero. And the country's Vice President is as much into vice as he wants to be president.
We think that's most of it. You're now a couple of dozen steps ahead of the game. Let's talk body parts spattering all over the fine dirt roads of small Mexican towns...
Violence is not gratuitous is it keeps a bullet from entering the hero's body through those soft squishy parts (we) give nick names to. Violence is not necessarily gratuitous if it makes you go "ooo" in reaction. That's a guy thing, true, but that's what we is... Then again, when body parts keep getting blown apart helter skelter, there comes a time when too much is just too much and spattering gore ceases to shock. That's a totally ass backwards way of saying that there is far too little Salma Hayek in Once Upon A Time In Mexico. But that's our problem.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Once Upon A Time In Mexico, he would have paid . . .
Once Upon A Time In Mexico is a slam bang comic book of a movie. One that, at least for those of us with decaying gray matter, will need more than a couple of runs in the DVD player. If you have a weak stomach, though, stay away. Things get particularly gruesome as you hit the third act.
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