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Rodriguez' Desperado a flashy sequel to El Mariachi

Desperado

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Starring Antonio Banderas, Joaquim de Almeida, and Salma Hayek.

Sony Cheri.

By Scott Deskin
Chairman

If you haven't yet heard of Robert Rodriguez, you should take note of his film Desperado. Ostensibly a sequel to, but reputedly a flashier version of, his debut feature El Mariachi, Desperado has plenty of style and wit to complement the numerous (and bloody) action sequences. Also worth mentioning is that Rodriguez has major studio support this time, with a budget roughly one thousand times greater than El Mariachi's $7,000: In Hollywood terms, though, Desperado is still a hell of a bargain.

It's also a hell of a ride. Told in a loose, comic-book fashion, Desperado is the story of a guitarist turned gunslinger, known only as El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), who seeks revenge on the drug dealers who killed his woman and maimed his hand in the first film. His story has taken on a mythical quality in the years that have passed: In an introductory segment, a stranger (played by Reservoir Dogs' Steve Buscemi) wanders into a bar and describes the carnage that El Mariachi has wrought on a bunch of hostile bar patrons in a neighboring town. The gunslinger's ultimate quarry is the crimelord Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the man behind the gang from the first film.

It turns out that Buscemi's character is a friend of El Mariachi, and is helping his cause by trying to inflate his persona. When the gunslinger heads into the next town, the boys in the bar are waiting for him. "We just want to see what's in the guitar case," says the bartender (Cheech Marin, perfectly cast). In no time, the bullets start flying and Rodriguez's quick-cutting camera shots add to the excitement. Our hero escapes to the street, but not without being tagged in the shoulder, and he's rescued by the beautiful Carolina (Salma Hayek), a bookstore owner and amateur surgeon. While he faces innumerable enemies on the outside, he takes some comfort with his newfound love interest.

Tongue-in-cheek humor abounds, but other than the spectacular action scenes, the plot is pretty weak. The most philosophical statement in the film is when El Mariachi says to Carolina, "It's easier to pull a trigger than play guitar; it's easier to destroy than to create." It's probably wise that Rodriguez didn't try to infuse too much solemnity to the gunslinger's character, although he does seem remorseful for the killer that he has become. More often, he gets caught up in the thrill of the moment, like taunting bad guys in the blood-soaked bar ("You missed me!") or throwing grenades at unsuspecting bad guys in an alley below while making a swift getaway on rooftops.

It looks as though Banderas has finally "arrived" at the threshold of mainstream box-office stardom: After supporting roles in The Mambo Kings and Philadelphia, he proves his worth as a leading man and full-blooded Latin sex symbol. The supporting players are all superb, especially Buscemi and Marin: even the master of neo-noir blood and guts himself, Quentin Tarantino, has a bit part as a drug pickup man who tells a joke that befits characters from Tarantino's other films. Not that all the dialogue is incisive or falling-down hilarious, but you'll enjoy most of it nonetheless.

The major flaw in this film is the ending, which seemed to have been tacked on in haste after Rodriguez's special effects budget ran out. However, Rodriguez possesses such an undeniable flair for action scenes and comic pacing that it's tough to hold it against his sophomore effort that much. The violence isn't for the faint of heart, but it's cut with enough humor (like Tarantino's Pulp Fiction) that you'll find yourself smiling most of the time anyway.