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.
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.