Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Steve Buscemi, Cheech Martin, Quentin Tarantino, Danny Trejo
Plot: A vengeful Mariachi (Banderas) launches a crusade against the gangster (Almeida) who killed his lover.
Every indie film maker out there will have a fantasy that they got a chance to remake their low budget debut with a multi-million budget and a star-studded cast. Imagine your movie without the flaws and messy bits that were caused by a lack of funding. Robert Rodriguez is a director who actually had a chance to do just that. While his debut feature, El Mariachi, was a wonderful example of the underdog making it to the big league, the actual film itself was limited by its indie circumstances. While Desperado’s biggest flaw is that Rodriguez partially casts his indie origin aside to make an identical movie, wrapped under the guise of a sequel, it is an interesting argument that money can improve a film.
Whatever your opinions of Rodriguez distancing himself from the movie that helped him reach his dreams, it is fascinating watching Rodriguez’s creative powers come alive. While this is still a low budget movie by Hollywood standards, there is enough breathing space for Rodriguez to add colour to his story. The story is fairly one note with Antonio Banderas’ mariachi strolling into town, eager to get some bloody revenge. It means that the script has a lot of scenes that threaten to be routine. Banderas bursts into a bar and shoots everyone to smithereens. But Rodriguez never lets mediocrity take over, attacking each shot with astonishingly vivid imagination. Banderas crouches behind a bar, while the camera tracks the thug flanking him. The tension is cut brilliantly with Banderas and a henchman dashing around the wreckage of the bar to find a weapon with ammo in it. Rodriguez even goes as far as making an indulgent Tarantino supporting role work. If that isn’t above and beyond the call of duty, I do not know what is. Rodriguez doesn’t worry about realism when it comes to his fight scenes, adding ilogical but entertaining flourishes to the fight. Banderas slowly reloads, as enemies take pot-shots at him, competent that the “rule of nameless henchmen not being able to hit an important hero” holds true in this film. Tarantino is obviously a big inspiration here, the quotable hyper-realistic dialogue and colourful supporting cast feeling like the strongest post-Tarantino imitation yet. It almost helps that Rodriguez’s movie is comprised of a basic plot, copied and pasted before. Too many plot twists would have hidden the smaller beats that Rodriguez puts his energy into. For example, there is a throwaway scene where Danny Trejo cameos as an assassin. While his tiny action scene could be argued to be fairly inessential, a moment worth trimming in a busier film, Rodriguez finds himself with the freedom to lavishly direct this small skirmish. The cast are superb too. Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are so sexy, it is almost silly. Banderas smoulders through scenes with a simmering macho aura. And Hayek blends the playfulness of a purring kitten with the danger of a woman prepared to kill. Together, they have chemistry to spare, their obvious pairing made fun regardless of its predictability. Almedia has never been better here, playing his stock character – a nasty piece of shit – but, in Rodriguez’s hands, there is so much more fun to be had in the caricature. The rest of the supporting cast are fairly disposable, most of them getting bumped off before the first half. But this works out in Desperado’s favour, as it peels away the distractions from the main cast, giving Banderas freedom to prove himself as an action hero household name, but also helps Rodriguez pull his movie back to its Mexican roots, allowing the second half’s secondary characters to be played by unknown Mexican actors, who perform with the energy of actors who may not get a chance like this again. It adds up to a great piece of action movie fun.
Final Verdict: Desperado shows the imagination of Rodriguez better than we’ve ever seen it before with an explosive re-imagining of his debut film.