ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, produced by Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan and Carlos Gallardo, with Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek and Eva Mendes. 107 minutes. A Columbia TriStar release. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
You have to admire the obsessiveness of Robert Rodriguez. He doesn't just write, produce and direct; he's director of photography, art director, editor and composer. He may be the caterer for all we know. On the other hand, when someone makes eight features before his 35th birthday, performing multiple jobs on each, he's probably not someone with time to think deeply about why he's doing what he's doing.
Rodriguez started making movies in childhood, and he's got the same restless, kinetic sensibility that marked Spielberg's early films. Mind you, Spielberg by 35 had made Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and two great TV films, Duel and Something Evil. Rodriguez hasn't made one film that good. Of course, neither has he made a huge leaden bomb like 1941.
He works fast, cheap and in control, and while he's produced a string of eye-popping B-movies, the three Spy Kids pictures, From Dusk Till Dawn and the three Mariachi films, culminating in Once Upon A Time In Mexico, there's not a lot happening below the electric eye candy.
Rodriguez isn't shy about his influences: Sergio Leone (Antonio Banderas is playing The Mariachi With No Name), John Woo (check the shootouts here and in Desperado) and Sam Peckinpah, whose influence shows up in those moments right before all hell breaks loose in From Dusk Till Dawn.
What this director is grabbing at, though, is style. He doesn't seem to be aware that Once Upon A Time In The West, The Killer and The Wild Bunch actually have content beneath the pyrotechnics, things to say about history, obsession and revenge, the conflict between interpersonal loyalty and social responsibility.
That said, Rodriguez, who's simply fulfilling his desire to be a genre hack (he's the Chicano John Carpenter), is preferable to someone like Michael Bay, who's a genre hack who thinks he's a genius. Bad Boys II is a cheap B-movie that cost $130 million and runs 145 minutes. Once Upon A Time In Mexico is a cheap B-movie that cost less than $30 million, clocks in at well under two hours and offers a lot more enjoyment.
Despite Antonio Banderas's return as the Mariachi, Once Upon A Time is Johnny Depp's picture. Having decided that it's never too early to move into full-blown Brando-esque weirdness, Depp here, as a rogue CIA agent trying to gain political control of Mexico, gives an even more stylized and peculiar performance than his interpretation of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean. He's very funny. but I hope Depp doesn't spend the rest of his career doing this kind of freak-show appearance.
There are many shootouts in palaces, churches, streets and kitchens. Banderas does a lot of brooding and worries about his lost love. Despite her second billing, Salma Hayek only appears in flashbacks and the crazy opening sequence, which is Cheech Marin's recounting of the legend of the Mariachi.
Cinematic junk food.
Opens Sep 12 at 401 & Morningside, 5 Drive-In Oakville, Coliseum Scarborough, Courtney Park 16, Docks Drive-in, Eglinton Town Centre, Elgin Mills, First Markham Place, Grande - Steeles, Grande - Yonge, Interchange 30, Paramount, Queensway, Rainbow Fairview, Rainbow Market Square, Rainbow Promenade, Rainbow Woodbine, SilverCity Newmarket, SilverCity Richmond Hill, SilverCity Yorkdale, Silvercity Yonge, Varsity, Winston Churchill.