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El Mariachi (Antonio Bandera) returns from his self-imposed exile after personal tragedy, with two sidekicks Lorenzo (Enrique Ilgeslias) and Fideo (Marco Leonardi). The trigger is corrupt CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) who recruits him to sabotage an assassination attempt on the President, plotted by evil cartel kingpin Barrillo (Willem Dafoe). But El Mariachi has a personal score to settle, too.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Over the top and all over the place, Once Upon A Time In Mexico is as unruly as it characters, and as joyously style-driven as a Bond movie, but with its own set of style guidelines. When Rodriguez made El Mariachi the first time, for about three dollars fifty, he created a new hero for the screen; a handsome Mexican guitar-playing gunslinger with a conscience. His Desperado re-make for bigger bucks didn’t really advance the original, and this time Rodriguez is paying homage to Sergio Leone, mixing his metaphors a bit, but with good reason. 

The problem for a filmmaker like Rodriguez is that once he gets more money to spend and encouraged as a result to use bigger stars, his relaxed filmmaking gets all tensed up and he feels compelled to make more of his movie than it warrants. Assembling a cast whose names alone demand respect, the filmmaker is pushed into making his movie try harder. 

The results are patchy: on the one hand, the stylistics are well funded, so action stunts are given plenty of screen time and production time. There are funds for effects. On the other hand, the very source of invention – necessity – is taken away. The film is an audio visual feast, even though its flying acrobatics during gunfights no longer seem so innovative. But still, it’s all about flair and attitude, so don’t worry too much if you lose the plot, the general thrust of it is enough to keep us vaguely in the picture.

Enough, at any rate, to enjoy the rich locations and the rich music, the beautiful cast and the craggy-faced actors playing the ‘colourful characters’ – all the while suppressing anti-violence feelings. (Rodriguez shot it digitally and did just about everything from the writing to camera to editing.) The style distances us from most of the violence, and some things (like Johnny Depp’s loss of sight later in the film) are symbols in a world where survival is the only moral imperative. It’s a period melodrama with zest.

Review by Louise Keller:
String the guitars, load up the guns and tip your hat to Sergio Leone, as Once Upon a Time In Mexico strums its life affirming music and takes us back into the theatrically violent world of El Mariachi for this third final chapter. And while the film follows Robert Rodriguez’ debut, made for just US$7,000, and the ensuing bigger budget remake Desperado, there’s no question you can enjoy this one, even without having seen either of the earlier films. 

Early in this film, Johnny Depp’s character asks ‘Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can’t?’ Without doubt, Rodriguez could easily add the suffix ‘can’ to his name, once again taking credit for not only writing, directing and producing the film, but also for having ‘shot, chopped and scored’ it as well. And if you stick around for the closing credits, you will take note that he is also the special effects supervisor, steadicam operator, sound effects editor and music mix supervisor. 

What a talent of a man – or could he be a control freak? Either way, the result is the same and Rodriguez has firm control over the mood and the lively, inventive feel of the film. We can smell the dust, recoil from the gun-toting characters and wallow in the fabulously colourful settings. The music is its pulse, and we hear songs sung by Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and ones written by Depp and Rodriguez. Banderas resumes his Mariachi role, with suitable attitude: wild hair flying, chin firmly tucked down, and nimble hands that alternate between strumming guitars and sharp shooting. 

Depp is big surprise, flaunting a prosthetic third arm for good measure, some t-shirts with provocative messages, and instead of heavy kohl pencil a la Pirates of the Caribbean, ends up with cavernous black circles around his eyes of another kind. Fascinating to watch, Depp keeps us wholly engaged, as the amoral, unpredictable Sands, as he orders the same pork dinner (with accompanying tequila and lime) at every eatery, double crosses everyone and ends up with the most unlikely assistant of a street chewing-gum sales boy. 

Guitars come in handy – apart from traditional music, they act as a slide to quickly descend stairs, a transporter for exploding devices, as well as a jolly good tool to just thump someone on the head. The action is relentless, with nifty stunts on bikes and cars, and gunshots that magically tornado from all directions. One of the flash-back sequences shows a highly ingenious stunt in which the stunning Salma Hayek and Banderas (handcuffed and chained together) negotiate and escape from a fifth floor apartment, using their bondage as tool for escape. Willem Dafoe is compelling as the villainous Barrillo who spends some of his screen time under the plastic surgeon’s knife, and Mickey Rourke and Eva Mendes add spice to their duplicitous characters. Rodriguez thrives on the digital filmmaking experience, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a gun-slinger’s fable to enjoy.

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CAST: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin, Willem Dafoe

PRODUCER: Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan, Carlos Gallardo

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez

SCRIPT: Robert Rodriguez


EDITOR: Robert Rodriguez

MUSIC: Robert Rodriguez


RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 26, 2004

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