Friday August 25, 1995
The story behind "El Mariachi," Robert Rodriguez's first film, is the kind of Hollywood tale Hollywood likes to tell. A young movie-struck writer-director takes $7,000 earned as a medical research subject and makes a picture he thinks might sell in the Spanish-language video market. Instead, it captivates agents and executives, gets a major-studio release and earns Rodriguez the chance to work with better actors and a considerably bigger budget.
The question on industry minds after "El Mariachi," namely what could this filmmaker accomplish with increased financing, turns out to be more interesting than the answer. For what Rodriguez has essentially done in "Desperado" is make a slicker, more expensive copy of what came before. And what looked promising for $7,000 looks tiresome for a whole lot more.
Seeing "Desperado" makes obvious what was only implicit in the fuss over "El Mariachi." What the suits saw in Rodriguez was not necessarily the next Orson Welles but, rather, someone with a clear facility for action, the one genre that can be counted on to sell tickets worldwide.
And, true to form, "Desperado" is a weakly comic splatter movie oversupplied with jokey, cartoonish violence. According to the press notes, more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition and six gallons of blood got expended during the shooting, and "Desperado" may be the first film where one of the assistant directors found it useful to keep separate lists labeled "Killed to Date,"' "To Be Killed Today" and "Yet to Be Killed."
Though he is no John Woo, Rodriguez, who co-produced and edited in addition to writing and directing, is better than average at blowing things up. But if you're not a fan of huge explosions, oversized weapons and people getting sliced and diced in all kinds of ways, "Desperado" doesn't have a lot more to offer.
Whatever wit the film does have is expended in its opening sequence, as an amusing Steve Buscemi wanders into a lowlife-laden bar in a Mexican border town with a story to tell. Just one town over, in a bar just like this one, he witnessed a blood bath engineered by a mysterious stranger who carried an impressive arsenal in his guitar case.
That character, held over from the first movie, is El Mariachi, a riff on the spaghetti Western concept of the mysterious man with no name. Played here by the handsome, magnetic Antonio Banderas (the one good thing studio money did buy), El Mariachi is a loner on a mission, looking for the sinister drug dealer named Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) he holds responsible for his beloved's death.
Other than orchestrating occasions for violence, Rodriguez also manages to work in cameos for friends, including Cheech Marin and Quentin Tarantino, who plays an ill-starred hit man. And there is, of course, time for a brief romance between El Mariachi and the attractive Carolina (Mexican star Salma Hayek), who runs a bookstore cafe in a town where nobody reads. That's about as sensible as "Desperado" gets.
Despite the anticipation Rodriguez's new feature has aroused, all that really needs to be said is "he came, he saw, he did it again." Or, as El Mariachi himself puts it: "It's easier to pull the trigger than play guitar. It's easier to destroy than create."
Desperado, 1995. R, for strong bloody violence, a strong sex sequence and language. A Los Hooligans production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Robert Rodriguez. Producers Robert Rodriguez, Bill Borden. Screenplay Robert Rodriguez. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Editor Robert Rodriguez. Costumes Graciela Mazon. Music Los Lobos. Production design Cecilia Montiel. Art director Felipe Fernandez del Paso. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi. Joaquim de Almeida as Bucho. Salma Hayek as Carolina. Cheech Marin as Short Bartender. Buscemi as Steve Buscemi.