A Review of Desperado

Following my review of El Mariachi, I wanted to compare it to it’s bigger budget Hollywood remake/sequel, Desperado. It would make a really interesting experiment.  Can Hollywood match the same sort of attitude that one filmmaker and seven thousand dollars had?  Was it worth doing so?  Is it as artistically satisfying?  After all, most of the same crew and the same writer and director were aboard.  Would that lead to the same result?

And the result?   A resounding “meh.”  This is about as close to the middle of the road as one can possibly get.  Oh, it’s not a bad film.  But the items and the free spirit of the indie version is gone.  El Mariachi felt like a story that desperately needed to be told.  Not so with Desperado. Oh sure, it’s not a terrible film.  But the thrill has been diminished and, outside of a few scenes, is quite forgettable.

Desperado tries to rationalize itself as a sequel, and in a way it is.  But it also borrows many elements from its predecessor.  Since the events of El Mariachi, the titular mariachi (this time Antonio Banderas) has been executing drug dealers and the subordinates throughout various towns in Mexico.  He comes to one town looking for “the last one” named Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida).  He kills many of the henchmen and meets a beautiful woman named Carolina (Salma Hayek, in her first American film) who agrees to assist him.  Like the predecessor, things go wrong and cause the Mariachi much loss, confusion, and attempts at redemption.

First off, the subplot with the romance is EXACTLY the same as it was in El Mariachi.  Same beautiful woman, same connection to the drug dealer, same everything.  It was so distracting that I could hardly even focus on Hayek’s performance.  It became a classic case of “haven’t I seen this before?”  I guess this was the Mariachi’s life falling back into place, showing that he did not need to focus solely on revenge.  But the film was not explicit enough to say that that is what is happening.  It just seems like a cheap way out from making something original.

But there is something more to this.  Rodriguez mainly felt that the visual design is what captivated people about the first film.  This film LOOKS fantastic.  It sets the mood of a sort of Sergio Leone fantasy, (like the predecessor sort of did) that is dirty and washed out but at the same time quite evocative of a real small town in Mexico.  The film is so packed with information in the sets that it will take multiple viewings to digest it all.

No, the problem here is with the story.  The depth of El Mariachi has been replaced by more squibs. We barely care about the Mariachi’s journey, and do not wish for him to be redeemed after the last film called for that when they stuck the character in absolute darkness.  The film barely even addresses that.  It just seems to be a set up to introduce the shoot out sequences.  You know, like the typical Hollywood action films.
Luckily the shoot outs are very well choreographed, imminently watchable, and actually obey the laws of physics and scoff at the notion of an indestructible protagonist.  That last one could have gone somewhere, but didn’t.  By the time the Mariachi goes into the next battle, whatever  wound he sustained has been healed.  And the Mariachi’s treatment of the world changes from scene to scene.  Sometimes he is guilty, other times he is quite happy to shoot.  What is going on here?  He may be the first character that is bi polar.  I can think of no other reason for his bizarre changes.

Rodriguez actually fixed many of these mistakes with the next film, Once Upon a Time In Mexico.  That actually had a plot (maybe too much…I will get to that in another review) and did not depend too much on the Mariachi or his quest for revenge.  The Mariachi was regulated to almost a bit playing that people try and use to carry out their nefarious plots.  And you know what?  That was fine.  He was a character in the first one that was merely caught up in a bad situation and the greatness of the film came from watching how this innocent man will react.  He was not a man who created his own problems.  I do not blame Rodriguez; he is a talented director and has shown that time and time again.  I just blame Hollywood for taking something special and trying their hardest to make it like everything else.

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