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Once Upon A Time in Mexico (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Robert Rodriguez; 8 deleted scenes with optional commentary; 'Inside Troublemaker Studios' featurette; 'The Anti-Hero's Journey' featurette; 'Film is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez' featurette; 'The Good, The Bad And The Bloody' FX featurette; 2 short films by Robert Rodriguez; Trailers.

JOHNNY Depp is the man who can do no wrong at the moment. Having transformed a potential Box Office dud into one of the hits of the year, in Pirates of the Caribbean, he now shamelessly steals the limelight in the latest Desperado movie, Once Upon A Time in Mexico.

The actor is, once again, on sublime form as a renegade CIA agent who forces Antonio Banderas’ vengeful El Mariachi out of hiding to sabotage an assassination plot against the president of Mexico, giving the type of performance which transforms what could have been a routine follow-up into one of the most effortlessly enjoyable romps of the year.

Once Upon A Time in Mexico is the concluding chapter of Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi series and is a tribute to the kinds of movies that inspired the director to become a film-maker, such as Sergio Leone’s classic ‘spaghetti’ westerns, and George Miller’s post-apocalyptic adventure, The Road Warrior.

Yet while the film certainly operates on a vast scale, it ultimately fails to measure up to the giddy heights set by Leone’s Dollars trilogy and occasionally feels like a big, sprawling mess of an epic.

Rodriguez attempts to pack so much into the story that it is occasionally difficult to keep up, allowing his boyish sense of adventure to run into overdrive amid an orgy of brilliantly orchestrated violence.

Whether audiences will have a clue what is going on by the time proceedings reach their extravagant denouement remains to be seen, for this is one warped thrill-ride of an adventure that succeeds on sheer bravura alone.

And by keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek, the film never loses sight of the absurdity of its premise, a ploy which also works to its advantage.

The plot picks up some time after the events of Desperado, with El Mariachi now in self-imposed exile, and scarred by personal tragedy, yet called back into action by Depp’s scheming agent, Sands, to work the forthcoming assassination attempt, instigated by Willem Dafoe’s cartel kingpin, Barrillo, to his own advantage.

What ensues is an elaborate tale of double cross and deception, as El Mariachi finds himself caught in the middle of a revolution in which no one can be trusted - not even the officials - and everyone has their own agenda.

As convoluted as things become, however, the real joy in Once Upon A Time lies in the audacity of its set pieces, as well as the way in which it trades on the familiar.

Rodriguez takes many of the same scenarios from Desperado and ups the ante considerably, with an escape from a hotel room, involving Banderas and Salma Hayek, one of many action highlights, as well as the opening storytelling sequence, in which the legend of El Mariachi is retold.

He also uses his cast very well, bringing back some actors (who had previously been killed off), such as Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo, as well as introducing the more heavyweight likes of Dafoe, Mickey Rourke and Ruben Blades to add gravitas to proceedings.

And his film also looks terrific, sumptuously shot to make the most of the Mexican landscapes and sunsets, while also using screen sirens Hayek and Eva Mendes to up the sexuality.

Yet as good as Banderas, Hayek and Rourke remain, it is Depp who lives longest in the memory, revelling in the opportunity to play a character so outrageously bad that audiences can’t help but root for him.

The last half hour, in particular, plays out like a deranged ballet of operatic gunplay in which Depp takes centre stage. He, like the film, is a blast.

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