Once Upon a Time In Mexico

June 1, 2010
Every journey must come to an end, and Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico certainly ends the director's El Mariachi trilogy with a bang - albeit a slightly disappointing one. Riding on the coattails of the first two Spy Kids films, both of which turned into fairly large blockbusters, the budget for the latest Mariachi is huge in comparison to the previous two entries in the series, and this increase is a bit of a mixed blessing for the film.

The film takes place years after Desperado, and our Mariachi is emotionally withdrawn after the death of his wife and child by the hands of a corrupt Mexican general. Though he still helps the occasional passer-by, the Mariachi's presence is otherwise gone, making seem more like a myth than a factual legend. However, as the Hebrew Bible states, there is no rest for the wicked and the Mariachi is called back into action once he's hired by "Sands", a seedy and psychotic CIA agent. The Mariachi's mission? To kill the general the same general that killed the Mariachi's family, in order that a powerful drug lord doesn't gain any political influence.

Structurally-speaking, the film's connections to Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy are quite obvious. Rodriguez wants this last entry to be his epic - his The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly - and he's pulling out all the stops to ensure of this. Though the larger scale is interesting and the visual finesse that comes with it is really cool, the film seems to lack the heart of the previous two films. Somewhere between the huge action scenes and the heavily-processed CGI, Rodriguez can't seem to retain the magic that his previous El Mariachi films had. There's still some of the charm left, but it's quite disappointing to see this last entry's "fall from grace".

The first thirty minutes of the film have to be the film's worst. The dialogue's atrocious, the action reaches cheesiness because of how over-the-top is, and it seems to lack any strong narrative cohesion. It's almost as if the director's making the plot up as he goes along, and this lack of direction hurts the film's characters, which mean to have no sense of purpose or desire.

Still, if you look past that, the film gets a little better. The characters regain that sense of style and likability that they had in the previous entries, and the new characters are pretty interesting as well. Johnny Depp as Sands is especially interesting, serving as this film's "The Bad", and his over-the-top psychotic nature serves as a nice balance to the Mariachi. Not to mention his spontaneity makes for some great entertainment.

The visuals look slick, and the action sequences look just as extreme and stylized as Desperado was. I'm mixed on the the visuals, however, because the film's HD CGI looks too perfect - if that makes any sense. Instead of looking like a film, the whole visual experience feels quite processed and artificial. It looks nice, but it's the same as saying that a robot looks great. It may look nice, but these visual choices make the film sometimes feel cold, hollow, and lifeless.

If I had to sum up Once Upon a Time in Mexico, I'd say that it's a mixed bag. It looks nice, the action's still delightfully over-the-top, and the characters retain some charm, but the big budget makes the visuals seem cold and the script's hollow of any of the previous films' charm. It provides a satisfying conclusion to the Mariachi's story, but the film's bumbling leaves something to be desired.

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