"Once upon a time it was probably a longer, better flick"
Whenever a big bloated movie comes along, one common observation is that "there's probably a damn good 95-minute film buried in that pretentious 3-hour mess". Just the opposite is true of Robert Rodriguez's latest flick, a muddled, confusing and intermittently dazzling action film that would be a whole lot more satisfying were it more 'epic' and less 'hurried'.What we've got here is a movie that was clearly a whole lot longer at some point prior to the editing booth. Serpentine subplots, copious collections of eclectic background characters, an irritating habit of harried exposition and a laborious devotion to flashback sequences all combine to tell one annoying tale: this flick was chopped to bits at some point, probably in an effort to make it as commercial as possible.
As it stands, Once Upon a Time in Mexico features a few arcane (and therefore enjoyable) performances, a handful of very exciting action bits...and scene after scene of non-stop lip service. After less than a half hour, you'll have given up trying to figure out who's a good guy, who's a bad guy, what each character's motivation is, and why you should care when such sketchily realized caricatures repeatedly betray one another...when you can't even tell who's on the same side in the first place!
This big sweaty ball of South of the Border mayhem centers around "El Mariachi" (Antonio Banderas) and the fact that he's been enlisted by a dangerously unstable CIA operative (Johnny Depp, approaching Crispin Glover territory here) to assassinate one fella who's set to assassinate a different fella. Only he's supposed to wait until the second assassin's contract is fulfilled...or maybe he's not supposed to wait. See, the plot shifts around like Tetris pieces, interrupted periodically for a flashback sequence or an action scene or an action sequence told in flashback.
Though it's in many ways an ungainly mess of a flick, Once Upon a Time in Mexico bears more than enough fruit to offer at least a half-hearted recommendation. Banderas is suitably macho and ass-kicktastic; Depp offers the world yet another endearingly bizarre performance; Salma Hayek (though only onscreen for about 12 minutes) proves a curvaceous distraction as well as one hell of a knife-thrower; slimy guys like Willem Defoe and Danny Trejo and Mickey Rourke sleaze their way around the movie to an entertaining degree; the action centerpieces are colorfully realized and aptly invigorating... This is certainly not an awful movie.
But just the same I'm hoping for some sort of "Director's Cut" come DVD time. This current flick is edited so bizarrely and shows up so dramatically misshapen that one can almost feel the editor's scissors at work. Restore this one to its less "cineplex-friendly" form and I guarantee you end up with a better film. At the very least it would probably make sense.The movie feels like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that have been wedged together with a rubber mallet. Still, large sections of the puzzle mesh quite well and deliver some solid escapist fun. Worth seeing for the good bits; get popcorn during the talky spots.