The Action Mutant…
knows your feet get cold in the winter time!
review by Joe Burrows
In many ways, Robert Rodriguez is the luckiest filmmaker alive. Not many directors have their first film gross about $2 million, especially those that have original budgets of $7,000! Not many directors have had the clout to create not one or two but three film trilogies. Very few directors are afforded the opportunity to work out of their own studios with relatively little interference. And pretty much no filmmaker has been able to redo their first film with a bigger budget. Simply put, not very many filmmakers have the workmanship that Rodriguez possesses. Ok, so it’s not all luck but you got to admit there is a good deal of it in the process.
The Plot, as it was:
Antonio Banderas stars as El Mariachi, a musician on a mission of revenge. His woman was killed and his hand was maimed by associates of a vicious drug kingpin named Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida). After a period of time, Mariachi saunters back into town, with a small arsenal of weapons in his guitar case. Aided by a mousy right hand man (Steve Buscemi) and a voluptuous book store owner named Carolina (Salma Hayek), Mariachi takes out every criminal element in town and won’t stop killing until he takes care of Bucho personally.
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Basically, Desperado is the equivalent of a Cherry Coke (to me, anyway…maybe it’s turnip juice for you). There’s little substance and is practically all empty calories…yet it tastes so fucking good! What keeps the film from being Death Wish-cito is the Latin color added to all that surrounds it. The music is appropriately energetic, the characters are colorful and the settings convey that of a snappy neo-Western. In other words, there are enough kinetic elements here to distract you from the fact that this is nothing new. Banderas manages to pull off the whole “coolly distant” approach, though it is arguable if it’s by design or not. His charisma ebbs and flows with the film, but its ok because the supporting cast picks up the slack. Hayek works as best she can with the thankless “token female” role and de Almeida is effectively menacing as the mad dog-like Bucho. He’s like the Latin James Remar and he has a few memorable scenes, like when he shoots at his own men to motivate them. Other bit parts by Buscemi, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo are amusing as well, with the opening “shaggy dog” bit by Buscemi and Marin being a howler. On the minus side, Quentin Tarantino manages to show up and muck up the proceedings with one of his annoying cameo roles. Thankfully, he only tells a bad joke and gets his brains blown out five minutes later. In the end, it all comes down to if the revenge motif plays off well and, due to Rodriguez’s mosaic approach, it does in Desperado.
Body Count/Violence: 70! Rodriguez’s characters are much like John Woo’s in the sense that they would rather battle it out with guns than fists. Ok, so there is a fistfight that involves a nasty broken leg (and the requisite explosions, some with hand cannons and rocket launchers!) but we’re talking major gunplay of the Peckinpah variety. Major blood splatter and bodies flying through the air make up the majority of the deaths, with a few even being point blank to the head. Also joining the party is Trejo’s Navajas, an assassin who takes out people only with mini throwing knives from his belt. However, try not to pay too much attention to the scene where Mariachi and Carolina leap from one roof onto a steeper roof (with her in a dress with slits, no less!) and suffer not one scratch.
Sexuality/Nudity: Banderas and Hayek have a steamy sex scene that is more artful than gratuitous, with lots of quick cuts. You still get to see Banderas’ ass and every curve that made Hayek a household name. Funny story: the only day the entire crew showed up was when this scene was filmed. However, due to Hayek’s stage fright, only Rodriguez and his wife were on set to shoot the scene.
Language/Dialogue: Fairly strong, though not on the level of Tarantino.
How bad was it?:
Many critics drew inevitable comparisons to El Mariachi, which was a big no-no considering the first film was a low budget, experimental smash and this was its higher budgeted, glossier cousin. Action fans seemed to favor it but critics greeted it with middling reviews at best.
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Columbia Pictures, which handled the distribution rights to El Mariachi, released Desperado on 8/25/95. It debuted in 2nd place behind…*sigh* Mortal Kombat with $7.9 million. Though not a huge hit, grossing just $25.4 million, it showed Rodriguez was bankable at the theaters due to his willingness to bring in his film at a low budget ($7 million).
Entertainment value: ****/*****
Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.