Johnny Depp has achieved what many thought he never could, mainstream acceptance. "Pirates
of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" brought this longtime small film star into the limelight. Apparently he intends
to stay there because he's in another star quality role as CIA agent Sands in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico."
Director Robert Rodriguez is known for his openly embracing fun with movies like the Spy Kids
franchise, "From Dusk to Dawn" and "The Faculty." He seems to want us to have as much fun as we want to have.
He skillfully uses a dark, sardonic sense of humor and a flair for stylized violence to entertain us. "Mexico"
ends up being a lot of fun, maybe more than the bigger budgeted films of the past summer.
"Mexico" revolves around a nameless gunslinger who happens to play a guitar. His legend
refers to him as El Mariachi, and that is what we are left to call him for the duration of the film.
Apparently, El Mariachi's wife (Salma Hayek) was murdered along with his young daughter by a
menacing general, Marquez (Gerado Vigil). It is through El Mariachi's desire for revenge that Sands manipulates
the mysterious man with a guitar case.
Sands is busily orchestating a scheme that will net him 20 million pesos and give El Mariachi
what he yearns for: the death of General Marquez. Also a part of the scheme is the overthrowing of a major drug cartel
(Willem Dafoe) who ruthlessly reigns over all the drug traffic coming in and going out in Mexico.
The scheme eventually becomes incoherent and contains several holes. Of
course, none of this matters because the film is so freaking cool. What the film lacks in substance, and the lack is
indeed glaring, it more than makes up in cool.
Banderas, presumably the star of the feature, is overshadowed considerably by the incredible
performance from Depp. Depp uses sheer force to steal every single scene he's in. While the character fluctuates between
bad guy and good guy, Depp displays such charisma that Sands is never anything less than likeable.
Banderas certainly isn't disappointing. El Mariachi may be his best role, just above
the title role in "Zorro" (c'mon, that movie was fun). He swaggers through most the film with his hair
in his grim, stoic face, but he's a decent hero. Sure, the character type (Man out for revenge for death of family)
is one of the most overused in movies, but that won't really factor into whether or not you will root for him. You will
root for El Mariachi because he's cool.
The violence in the film is turned up to the point that a friend of mine said, following the
feature, that "there weren't any people left in Mexico." It's true, the body count is high and the action sequences
are stylized to make killing look cool, but I can't help but buy the product being sold. It's a cool movie.
The film adds up to be another fun action film with a great performance by Depp, but don't
look to the movie for an amazing character study because you won't find it. The film has but one purpose, a purpose
it accomplishes all too well: to entertain.