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by Willie Waffle

Once Upon A Time In Mexico

Writer/director Robert Rodriguez has made his career on two major franchises - Spy Kids and El Mariachi/Desperado. It has to be very lucrative for him, but I don't think either franchise has greatness within it. His style maybe popular, but Once Upon A Time In Mexico is another example of how Rodriguez goes for style over story and substance.

Antonio Banderas stars as El Mariachi - a prolific, legendary gunman in Mexico. He has been hired by sneaky CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp), to stop the assassination of the Mexican President by military strongman General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil). While duty to country or a lucrative payday might be enough to make most of us take the job, for El Mariachi, it's personal because he wants revenge.

Will El Mariachi save the day? What is Sands' really up to?

With all of these huge stars (Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Depp, Enrique Iglesias, Banderas and more), you would think that the story was better developed and full of great dialogue for every character, but that's not the case. While Rodriguez does fill the film with some wickedly funny one-liners (mostly given to Depp), he often sacrifices story and character development for big shoot 'em up, blow 'em up action scenes, which feel repetitive. Some visual tricks are used two or three times (for instance, the way people are shot and the attacks on El Mariachi), while I wanted to know more about this intricate plot full of double crosses and betrayed loyalties. El Mariachi has a great reason for revenge, but it is shown to us in flashes rather than one powerful scene. Sands seems to have a very interesting past with a Mexican FBI agent, Ajedrez (Eva Mendes), but that's never fully explored. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

By far, Depp puts in the best performance because he has the best material with which to work. He gives off an energetic vibe that is full of devilish mischief, while also taking command of an interesting, tough, dangerous character. Depp doesn't let style get in the way of his performance, but still has plenty of it to go around. Even in his character's weird resolution, he keeps it all together when the material could have been better.

The rest of the cast does what they can with the material, but they are not as well served by the script as Depp. El Mariachi is a one-note character, but Banderas keeps him interesting as he plows through mercenaries. Mendes seems to be a perfect foil for Depp, but she only appears a couple of times in the film, as does Dafoe, who should have a bigger part in light of his role as the leader of a major cartel in Mexico. I felt like Rodriguez might have been better off with a longer film, but, then I realized that he had his chance to add this detail, and chose to throw in a couple extra gun fights.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico has its enjoyable moments, looks very cool, and starts strong, but it loses its way half way through the film. In the end, you're left with a mish mash. Grade: B-

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