Rodriguez's Desperado Hours Drag, but Johnny Be Good

The working title of Once Upon a Time in Mexico was Desperado II,and the working title of Desperado was El Mariachi II (why not For a Few Million More?), which gives some indication of the diminishing re-returns on offer in Robert Rodriguez's latest. Having already looted the Peckinpah and spaghetti-western archives, the director now quotes his own quotations, in service of not a sequel but a vociferous reiteration. Here again is the brooding man with no name and vengeance on the brain (Antonio Banderas), strolling through border-town pyrotechnics with an armory in his guitar case, bewitched by Salma Hayek (granted second billing for a near wordless recurring cameo), stretched into a tall tale by a barroom raconteur (Cheech Marin, standing in for an AWOL Steve Buscemi). Various explosions and bullet exchanges punctuate a convolution engaging the CIA, a drug baron (Willem Dafoe in Chuck Heston's Touch of Evil makeup), and the overthrow of the Mexican government.

Hoodwinked: Banderas and Hayek
photo: Rico Torres
Hoodwinked: Banderas and Hayek

Notwithstanding multitasker Rodriguez, who not only scripted and directed but "shot, chopped and scored," the identity of Mexico's prime-mover auteur will not surprise those who this summer found themselves enjoying a Bruckbuster pirate farce. Johnny Depp, who must be ad-libbing, is the man in the "CIA" T-shirt, a charming, loathsome tourist kicking up third-world dust with glib glee until the hounds of hell catch his scent—his Gloucester act with a local kid summons at once the fragile specter of Edward Scissorhands and an abject mythos finally worthy of Leone.

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