Hitman "El Mariachi" becomes involved in international espionage involving a psychotic CIA agent and a corrupt Mexican general.
The credits inform us that Robert Rodriguez, mastermind of the "Spy Kids" franchise, shot, chopped and scored this latest bloody, jokey folk ballad about a lone killer (Antonio Banderas) with soulful eyes and a lethal guitar. The digital video cinematography has unusual depth and luster, the action sequences are punchy and inventive, and the music is pretty good, too. Unfortunately, it seems as if the writing and directing, which Robert Rodriguez also did, were something of an afterthought. There are some witty moments, mostly courtesy of Johnny Depp, who plays a C.I.A. agent messing around in Mexico, and some high-impact many-gun salutes to the action auteurs Sergio Leone and John Woo. But the mood of tongue-in-cheek, romantic mayhem is spoiled by the picture's incoherence, and by its resort to appalling extremes of violence when nothing else is working. Salma Hayek appears only in flashback, as the hero's cruelly murdered true love. The present tense is devoted to an elaborate maze of double-crosses and vendettas involving a drug kingpin's attempt to overthrow the Mexican president — Scott
2003-09-12 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of Once Upon a Time in Mexico