Once Upon A Time In Mexico Review

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El Mariachi quits retirement to avenge the murder of his wife and daughter. He's then involved with an assassination attempt on the President, teams up with a bonkers CIA agent and a Latino pop star, and takes on a psychotic drug baron.


Rodriguez crash-bang-wallops his way back into more adult material with the third instalment in the Western saga he started with El Mariachi in 1992 and followed up with Desperado three years later.

Considering his overall trilogy arc - cracking low-budget original, bigger-budget remake, shambolic yet hugely entertaining final chapter - Rodriguez rather more mimics Sam Raimi's Evil Dead franchise than his Spaghetti hero's classic three-parter. Not exactly tragic, then, but nevertheless still something of a disappointment considering the kinetic razzmatazz of parts one and two.

Rodriguez certainly hasn't lost touch with his hyper-violent sensibilities, the stylistic melding of Peckinpah and Woo that so wowed us previously. Nor has he cast off his traditional shortcomings, the plot being once again secondary to the visuals. And as handy as his Hollywood buddies can be in delivering, "Hey, isn't that...?" cameos, in this instance he's hamstrung by the presence of so many - Rourke and Dafoe suffering most from an overload of familiar faces (Enrique Iglesias, for heaven's sake!) that sees them relegated to the sidelines. A shame, especially as Rourke gives comfortably the second-best performance on show. Top honours in that respect - for the second month running, in fact - fall to Depp, as he delivers a display of nutty characterisation that almost outshines his Keith-Richards-goes-boating Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean.

His Agent Sands, in between dressing up in preposterously useless disguises and comparing the menu merits of whichever cruddy cafe he happens upon, is a source of constant chuckles, right down to his bonkers last half hour.

Sadly for Banderas, Depp's domination leaves him more of an afterthought in a movie centred on his quest for vengeance. Through a series of flashbacks - one of which features the movie's finest set-piece, as he and Hayek scramble down the outside of a building whilst chained together - we see his pain. But as he gets lost in a meandering story, we lose empathy for his emotional journey.

Frankly, were it not for Depp explaining things to Eva Mendes' policewoman halfway through, no-one would have the foggiest what's going on. But, hey, this is a Rodriguez flick, and his bloodstained fingerprints are all over it - from typical, Tarantino-type intro, as Cheech Marin narrates a tale of El's gunslinging bravado, through some deadpan dialogue ("Are you a Mexican, or a Mexican't?"), to neat visual wit and explosive action sequences that fudge reality and comic book fantasy into a single, surreal slice of pure illusion.

Falls between being Charlie’s Angels for big boys and the Western’s Return Of The Jedi. If it made any sense, there’d be an extra star on the three below. As it is, it’s pointless, but terrific fun.