Review: Desperado (1995)

>> Sunday, January 30, 2011

USA/C-104m./Dir: Robert Rodriguez/Wr: Robert Rodriguez/Cast: Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Cheech Marin (Short Bartender), Steven Buscemi (Buscemi), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-up Guy), Danny Trejo (Navajas), Tito Larriva (Tavo), Carlos Gomez (Right Hand)

A weaselly guy (Steve Buscemi) walks into the Tarasco Bar and orders a beer so disgusting that the tap belches with each draw. He then proceeds to spin a tale about a mysterious Mexican with a guitar case full of weapons who massacred the denizens of another saloon while trying to find out information regarding the whereabouts of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the local drug kingpin. The bartender (Cheech Marin) and bouncer (Tito Larriva) listen intently to the stranger’s story, because the bar is actually a front for Bucho’s drug operation. Soon the heralded guitar case-carrying vigilante (Antonio Banderas) appears at the Tarasco Bar looking for revenge on the drug dealers that killed the woman he loved. In his quest for vengeance against Bucho, the vigilante will encounter numerous gun-toting underlings, a knife-wielding goliath (Danny Trejo), and a beautiful bookstore owner with middling surgical skills (Salma Hayek).

Along with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez emerged as one of the darlings of the 1990’s indie film movement. To audiences of the time, their films were action-packed, subversive, and most of all, “cool.” Unfortunately, while Tarantino’s films hold up remarkably well, Rodriguez’s output seems a lot less cool today that in did fifteen years ago. Looking back at Desperado, the Hollywood sequel to Rodriguez’s low-budget, Spanish-language debut, El Mariachi (1992), Rodriguez’s weakness as a storyteller are much more apparent now (after a string of movies that celebrate style over substance and an almost fanatical disregard for coherent narrative) than they were at the time of its release.

While the bar-related humor and action scenes in the first half of the film are undeniably fun, the film runs out of steam in the second half as the gunfights get repetitive and the motivations of the hero and villain are undeveloped. For viewers that missed Rodriguez’s debut film, the dream sequences that should explain the reasons behind Banderas’ revenge are confusing, and even audiences that saw El Marachi may have difficulty explaining why the Marachi wants to kill Bucho, when it was another drug lord, Moco (Peter Marquardt), that actually killed his girl. It also doesn’t help that Joaquim de Almeida plays Bucho as a smaller than life baddie and that the revelation of a surprise relationship between him and the Mariachi is laughably corny.

Desperado skates by primarily on the charms of its cast. Luckily, Banderas, Buscemi, Cheech Marin, and especially Salma Hayek have charm to spare. In fact, Robert Rodriguez’s greatest contribution to cinema has been to introduce the lovely Hayek to American audiences. Desperado is worth revisiting for her presence alone, but soused cinema enthusiasts will also enjoy the memorable bar scenes that open the film.

Drinks Consumed--Beer (piss-warm Chango), margaritas (Tequila), and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, swearing, public disturbance, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--SHORT BARTENDER: What do you want?
BUSCEMI: Beer.
SHORT BARTENDER: All I got is piss-warm Chango.
BUSCEMI: That’s my brand.

Video Availability--Desperado has been paired with El Mariachi on DVD and Blu-Ray (Sony)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--A bar was also the setting for the second half of Rodriguez’s next full-length feature, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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