More noise than signal

Desperado

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Three years after El Mariachi, and with the better part of seven million dollars more to spend on it, Rodriguez returns to the Mariachi character, if not the actor. Antonio Banderas picks up the guitar case, and this time around he’s much happier with the case being full of guns.

Apparently out to kill all drug lords, he’s going after a kingpin called Bucho, stymied somewhat by not knowing what he looks like. We do, however. He looks like Joaquim de Almeida, because that’s who’s playing him. Mariachi is aided in this by his friend Buscemi, played by, checks notes Steve Buscemi, goddamn it Chad, I though I told you to sub edit this, he can’t possibly be called… you’re sure? Jesus.

Anyway, aided by Buscemi he starts shaking the trees and seeing what falls out, and that’s largely Bucho’s goons and automatic weapons. During one exchange he saves the life of Salma Hayek’s bookstore and cafe owner Carolina and the two strike up a relationship, however this will be complicated by the shocking coincidence that she’s kinda-sorta in a relationship with Bucho. A coincidence only topped by the revelation of Bucho’s true identity uncovered in the final confrontation with Mariachi, which is, intentionally, I’m sure, straight out of a telenovela.

While plot in this sort of thing is never really a primary concern, even by the genre’s low standards this is a bit of a muddle, and frankly a bit of step down from El Mariachi, a trend line that unfortunately continued downwards with Once Upon A Time in Mexico.

However having more budget, and, well, a crew, does allow for a few upgrades. While no-one’s really being stretched here, no-one’s going to say no to Banderas and Hayek’s involvement, and bringing Guillermo Navarro on as cinematographer, who would go on to a number of fruitful Del Toro collaborations, lends for a nice looking slice of action. And, of course, he has the very obvious advantage of shooting on 35mm film, and not the 3.5mm film used in El Mariachi.

Now, I’m not sure at this point I’ve got all that much more to tell you about Desperado – it’s a very slickly executed, enjoyable action flick, owing a fair amount to the 80’s excess heyday of the genre as opposed to the watered down PG friendly trend that would have been in full swing even back when this was created. Sure, the plot’s barely worth bothering about, but there’s enough charisma from the leads to bluster through and solid supporting turns from the actors and the pyrotechnics.

Compared to El Mariachi you do rather miss out on spotting the moments of budget-stretching ingenuity, and the more coherent plot, but gain a whole bucket of slickness. Which is better? That’s perhaps a matter of taste. I’d recommend you watch both and make your own mind up.