Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Starring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim De Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino. (1995, R, 106 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 25, 1995
During its opening moments, Desperado announces itself as an action picture that demands to be watched, if not for its hyperkinetic staging and riveting fusillade of superhuman physical feats, then for its stunning choreographic vortex that sweeps all action and drama into its ever-escalating cyclone of forward progression. With Desperado, a follow-up to his 1993 ultra-low-budget indie success El Mariachi, Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez proves that his earlier success was no one-hit wonder. Although El Mariachi trod an unprecedented path to the box office, a path that instantly became the stuff of classic movie lore, Rodriguez demonstrates that studio financing (modest in terms of Hollywood figures yet a veritable Fort Knox in terms of El Mariachi's much-quoted $7,000 budget) has not gone to his head. Rodriguez is a filmmaking dynamo whose talent derives from his kinetically composed images and vibrantly economic editing style. His lively image flow gathers no dross. Happily, the comforts afforded by Desperado's larger budget have not endangered Rodriguez's stylistic economy; instead, the additional funds mean that now Rodriguez can blow things up real good. By the time Desperado's opening action sequence concludes prior to the opening credits, the viewer has already lost count of all the fatalities and the film has adopted a kind of comic-book logic, humor, and vitality. El Mariachi's mythic status has been reaffirmed and it frees him from the bounds of mere human physical constraints. Furthermore, having heartthrob-of-the-month Antonio Banderas portray El Mariachi in this chapter of the film saga (Desperado cannot exactly be characterized as a sequel to El Mariachi, nor is it a remake; with its new cast and embellished story line, it seems more like a continuing adventure or further episode) certainly adds to the character's mystique. This maxed-out shoot-'em-up also intertwines a passionate love story within its plot. Popular Mexican TV star Salma Hayek plays a woman who can be every bit as lethal as El Mariachi. When first we see her, she is causing multiple car crashes by merely walking across the street. Visually, Banderas and Hayek make a stunning pair with their long dark hair framing them in a voluptuous cascade, and their sly humor and natural cunning finding in each other a natural fit. Moreover, one of the most unusual aspects of this Hollywood-financed production is its absence of American actors and settings. In Desperado, Mexican figures are portrayed as both the heroes and the bad guys. The soundtrack also features music by Los Lobos. Desperado is a bust-a-gut film experience that reveals Rodriguez as both a stylist versed in the mechanics of popular storytelling and a maverick whose ingenuity guides him along a singular path.