Once Upon A Time In Mexico (***)

(2003) Robert Rodriguez – Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Rubén Blades, Willem Dafoe, et al.

Synopsis: The plot of ‘Once Upon A Time In Mexico’, while not out-and-out absent, is somewhat tenuous; think ‘Desperado II’ (Or ‘El Mariachi 3’, but who’s keeping track), throw in a violently eccentric CIA agent, ex-FBI, a coup attempt, and some absurdly out-of-place flashbacks, and you have OUATIM. It’s El Mariachi (i.e., Antonio Banderas) back for revenge, but drawn there unwillingly. Johnny Depp is CIA, Mickey Rourke is a fugitive from the U.S. (though this fact is only incidental to the plot), Pedro Armendariz, Jr., is the President of Mexico, and Willem Dafoe is the dread Barillo.

Review: You have to give Rodriguez credit: he not only directed, but wrote the music, wrangled the cameras, and edited the thing; it’s almost surprising he didn’t do the stunts himself and handle the special effects. Unfortunately, the man needs to learn how to delegate responsibility. ‘Once Upon A Time In Mexico’ is halfway decent—particularly towards the beginning—but taken as a whole, it’s weak, confusing, and awkward. Surprisingly, Johnny Depp (or his character, anyway) might very well be one of the highlights of the movie. Depp as CIA Agent Sands is downright hilarious, with campy, offbeat lines and a murderous irreverence that fits very well with the tone of the movie. At one point, he’s at a bull-fight wearing a T-shirt that says CIA in big block letters. And he’s got a third arm, which is an interesting gimmick. Sands also keeps the movie from getting bogged down by El Mariachi’s melancholy, which is a good thing for the movie. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things to bog down the movie. For starters, Salma Hayek’s parts are all awkwardly grafted into a story where, essentially, they don’t belong (much less make any sense). Likewise, these parts seem to be leading somewhere—a side-story, perhaps?—but then end abruptly, leaving the viewer in a dead-end. ‘Desperado’ in all honesty was not outstanding, so it should come as no great surprise that its sequel isn’t exactly a five-star masterpiece. ‘OUATIM’ is darkly fun and maybe slightly higher on the ‘Must See’ list of fans of ‘Desperado’ or ‘El Mariachi,’ but it’s probably best left to its own devices.

Rating: [•••] out of [•••••]