|Disclaimer: There will be no Desperado spoilers here, but I intend to speak of plot points of the previous entry into this series, El Mariachi, the events of which lead directly into this sequel. If you havenít seen El Mariachi and wish to, donít read this! Don't say I didn't warn you!|
Ah, those wacky Mid-Nineties. Looking back on them, though we can still complain about Violence today, we can see how blood soaked entertainment really was back then. One of the top Comic Book heroes of the age committed planetary genocide and frequently murdered innocent people on various worlds (no, not a villain, Lobo was actually considered the Hero). It was an age when "I shot Marvin in the Face!" could elicit a room full of uproarious laughs, Bassinger and Baldwin could speak out against violence in films and then make the A-Positive spill-smear that was The Getaway and we saw not only blood, but the gory horror of David Caruso's bare butt on NYPD BLUE! Heck even the big Disney movie of the day featured a murder! I'm not sure what changed, but looking back, it was a Vampire's wet dream with red liquid everywhere! There was more human DNA thrown around in Mid-Nineties entertainment than in a Raelian cloning facility!
No exception to this rule is Desperado the sequel to Robert Rodriguez' breakthrough Indie El Mariachi. Desperado has more violence and more guns and more blood and more death than El Mariachi, but, like Pulp Fiction before it, Desperado also contains a solid story, good laughs and some very inventive film making!
When we last saw El Mariachi the woman he loved had been murdered by Moco, his left hand had been shot, effectively ruining his guitar-playing career, and he had taken up the mantle of Azul, abandoning his guitar for Azul's gun-filled case and riding away on a Mad-Max-esque motorcycle. In the three years that have passed El Mariachi has become a legendary vigilante, seeking out wrongdoers and doing them in like a Hispanic Spawn! [Another notable difference is that El Mariachi now looks just like Antonio Banderas instead of Carlos Gallardo.] The voiceovers are replaced by a sort of greek Chorus in the form of Steve Buscemi, who heralds the arrival of El Mariachi as he makes his way across Mexico, seeking out his quarry (I'm sorry, was that over the top?)!
It's clear from the outset that the events of the first movie have taken away the innocence that El Mariachi had, and replaced it with a cynical edginess that simply spells B*A*D! The Mariachi appears initially to be an indestructible superman, but Banderas (and Rodriguez as Scriptwriter and Director) seems intent on making the character vulnerable and still lost and in need. The roots of the lost, confused and tragic guitarist from the original film slowly come into focus as the movie goes on. The goal of his killing spree is to cut off the head of the Mexican mob named Bucho played by Joaquim de Almeida (best known for his south of the border work, but you may have seen him in Clear and Present Danger). Along the way, El Mariachi makes some interesting team-ups, takes some heavy losses and meets up with a second love (in the form of the medulla oblongata twistingly hot Salma Hayek) and makes one huge and startling revelation. Naturally along the way more blood is spilled than in a Discovery Channel Shark Week documentary.
There is a lot of good in this movie to appreciate. For one thing the script is pretty solid, and the acting is good. The action is truly over the top, but well choreographed so as not to appear to be campy. There probably is more blood than is necessary, but in Rodriguez' defense, El Mariachi doesn't go killing indiscriminately. There is at least a tanker-load of gratuitous blood, but it's only spilled when someone goes after El Mariachi. El Mariachi wants Bucho dead, and will defend himself, but isn't some Lobo-case either! Although not as prevalent as it could be, Rodriguez doesn't shy away from the main character's Catholicism. He attends church and makes the memorable and poignant prayer of "Give me the strength to be what I was, and forgive what I am!" showing a longing for the innocence the character lost.
There are a lot of laughs to break up the seriousness of this modern western. For example, some of the scenes of the original are inverted for smiles. El Mariachi carries an improved guitar case from the one he inherited from Azul which features a breakaway false guitar front. There are also many laughs at the expense of Bucho himself as he gets frustrated with his own powerlessness. Who knew de Almeida was so darned funny? Buscemi's stories along with a cameo by Quentin Tarantino provide some heavy laughs as well. While there is a lot less of the playful silliness that we saw in El Mariachi, but that which remains still meshes well with the deadpan humor that is successfully delivered so very often.
As good as all this is, a major draw here is Salma Hayek's Carolina! She plays a brave, mostly innocent shopkeeper who is thrust into the strife between Bucho and El Mariachi with the best of intentions. She does a wonderful job of portraying feminine strength and acts well, while maintaining a remarkable, eye-widening, mid-rift baring, skirt-twirling heat unmatched by just about anyone else. A heaven-sent nude scene (helping to prove the existence of a God who loves us) also is worth every cent of the cost of the DVD.
There are a few flaws here. Again, there is s lot of gratuitous blood that shows what year this film was made in. There is also the very real understanding that Rodriguez knew just how good looking Banderas and Hayek really are when making this film, as there are some sight-bytes here and there that must have been intentional. I imagine Rodriguez directing them to "Throw the grenades, and then... strike a pose!" A very well shot and directed scene featuring El Mariachi with his own band performing a Los Lobos song while kicking some butt seems thrown in just to show that "El Mariachi" really is a mariachi musician, not just a poseur like Azul was. I wondered where he kept the guitar when his case was clearly filled with guns until the whole thing proved out to be a dream sequence.
The biggest question we're left with, though, is "why Bucho?" During the aforementioned Dream Sequence it is confirmed that Moco is still the killer here, and that continuity hadn't changed, yet El Mariachi seems to be on a personal vendetta to wipe out Bucho. Moco is confirmed long-dead, and while Bucho might be Moco's over-boss, Bucho certainly appears to be far distanced from that which ruined our hero's life. It's stated that Bucho "buys innocents" and causes the situations that lead to the deaths of innocents like Domino, and it's also stated that El Mariachi kills all drug dealers according to the legend, but the personal nature of the vendetta doesn't seem to fit. Instead it seems to merely be placed in as a plot point to set up a big revelation about Bucho and the Mariachi himself.
There has been a lot of discussion on whether Desperado is a remake of or a sequel to El Mariachi. I'm not quite sure why this would be as the two films have very distinctive plot lines that rarely overlap. Further, the events of El Mariachi lead directly into those of Desperado. There are some similarities such as the Mob Boss being in love with the shop keeper that El Mariachi falls for as well as some surprising showdowns, but this is in no way a Remake. If you want a sequel that is really a remake, see Evil Dead 2! I understand that a great many more people will see and have seen Desperado than El Mariachi, but with so many plot points harkening back to the events of the first movie, I can't imagine how one could fully understand or appreciate this film without having viewed El Mariachi first. Trust me, do what I did and watch Desperado right after El Mariachi, and you'll see what I mean!
All in all this is a very good movie, and more than worth the time to watch it. It also puts one in an action mood tempered with a little intelligence. You might not want to follow this one up with Point Break, but you might be in a Matrix mood. I for one can't wait for the third installment, Once Upon a Time in Mexico! Three and One Half Stars for Desperado. It's high production values make it a better looking film than El Mariachi, but the gaps in story, and over dependence on violence and gore take away from what is essentially a wonderful film. All in all it's a perfect companion piece to El Mariachi and I would consider the two films to be peers. In the Easter Egg Category, check out who El Mariachi's rhythm guitarist and erstwhile machine gunner is... none other than Carlos Gallardo himself (El Mariachi Original). I need to lose some weight, grow my hair and get into some skin tight Mariachi clothes... I'll practice that guitar and learn how to turn the case into a Bazooka. I'd be the man then. When this site is filled with pics of my wife dressed like Salma Hayek in this film you'll see that I have succeeded. Thank you for contributing to my delinquency... good night!