A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Desperado

May 6, 2011

Desperado

Three years after making his great indie film about a guitar player who has to fight for his life when he was mistaken for a drug lord and hit man Robert Rodriguez followed up with this. It’s a lot of fun to see what he can do when given a multi-million dollar budget to work with. For one thing this movie starts the tradition of having Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo in all of his films going forward – always welcome faces. For another it’s a fantastic action shoot-em-up in the spirit of John Woo that never ceases to delight me.

As this movie begins we discover that the Mariachi of the first movie has become somewhat of a legend amongst the criminal underground in Mexico. Partially due to some shameless self-promotion being spread by his friend and sidekick Buscemi. (A part written for Steve Buscemi that bears his name.) Buscemi has been going to seedy bars and planting stories of the Mariachi’s superhuman killing abilities. The two of them are searching for a boss called Bucho who apparently was the head of the organization that employed the criminal Moco who was responsible for the end of the Mariachi’s career as a guitar player and the death of his love Domino. (In a nice bit of continuity with the first film all the same actors who played Domino, Moco and Bigoton in the first film have brief cameos reprising their roles in a sort of dream sequence after the opening credits.)

The biggest change from the first movie, aside from the clearly much improved production values, is that the Mariachi is no longer played by Carlos Gallardo (who instead plays his friend and compatriot Campa) but is now played by Antonio Banderas. I suppose I can understand the desire to have a well known and English speaking actor to portray the lead character, and I can’t really complain because Banderas was born to play this role, but it’s a little confusing right after watching the first movie. I remember the first time I saw this thinking that it was strange that everything about the first movie was taken as backstory, but that the actor had changed.

Anyhow, the lanky-haired tortured killing machine played by Banderas has come seeking Bucho – one last kill to settle the debts from the first movie. Buscemi begs him not to pursue his course of vengeance, but the Mariachi seems not to know any other way to live at this point. Then the bloodbath begins. The Mariachi proves that his reputation as an indestructible killing machine is not unwarranted as he shoots up a bar where a drug deal is taking place. He kills everybody. The bodyguards, the drug dealers, the accountant, even the bar tender. All to get Bucho’s attention. Then he holes up with a beautiful woman who lives in an apartment above her cafe/bookstore. It’s at this point, when the Mariachi is wooing the gorgeous and intelligent Carolina that I start to get a sense of deja-vu. The similarities to his romance with Domino, who was also being paid off by the mob as Carolina is in this movie, made me wonder if Rodriguez was making a sequel or a re-make here. There are big parts of this movie that feel like re-hashes of the first movie just done with a bigger budget.

In the end though I don’t much care. This movie is all about the awesome firefights. There’s Buscemi’s tale of the Mariachi taking out a low life bar. Then there’s the reprise of that when he actually does wipe out everybody in a low life bar. There’s the shootout in the bookstore. There’s the climactic free-for-all when the Mariachi reluctantly recruits his friends Campa and Quino to help him take out the mob. Every one of them is a spectacular, stylised, perfectly choreographed ballet of bullets, blood and death. Comparisons in my mind to John Woo’s The Killer are inevitable.

As with The Killer this movie has a kind heart behind all the violence. The Mariachi befirends a young boy and gives him guitar lessons. He despairs that so many regular people in his country have become corrupted by the drug dealers he fights (a theme that is greatly expanded upon in the third movie in the trilogy.) And he has a great love for music – which helps him to gain the love of Carolina – and leads to a sex scene which I hadn’t remembered being quite as steamy as it is. (It must be because I have seen this movie edited for television so many times.)

What sets this movie apart more than anything else from other action films is the wonderful way that Rodriguez blends the soundtrack into the film. The thrilling strumming of the guitar drives the action, the beats are linked. Of course it has left both me and Amanda humming along well after the movie had ended. Look at the artists here. Los Lobos. Santana. Dire Straights. Of course it makes sense for a movie about a guitarist turned benevolent hit-man to have a stellar soundtrack, and now we both want to go buy it for ourselves.

I also can’t wait for the rousing over-the-top conclusion to the Mariachi trilogy tomorrow.

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May 6, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | ,

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