My recent project of coming to terms with classic Westerns has only further helped me enjoy these more recent contemporary releases.
With a budget exactly 1000 times the financing behind El Mariachi, Desperado is a film which offers far greater room for creativity to director Robert Rodriguez. Yet this is still a relatively low budget for a Hollywood film, and it provides enough for the director. It takes very little time before viewrs find out what they're in for because the director knows audiences demand action and he gives it to them. Before the film is 5 minutes in, a massive shootout has already taken place and viewers learn immediately what they're in for. You can see the director is still transitioning out of his experimental ways in some retrospect, for better and for worse. But either way, Desperado ends up being a satisfying film.
Desperado is very much a sequel and a remake of El Mariachi at the same time. Though its a continuation of the story told in El Mariachi, Desperado carries over the same character archetypes and scenery as its predecessor with many sequences directly mirror ing ones which have already been established. The film remains stylish in its ambition to do this and the appeal is all the same, but there is a little much of a been there done that feeling at times. Though the central premise regarding mistaken identity is not present in Desperado, everything that does happen is structured in the exact same manner as in El Mariachi. Viewers can essentially find that they're just watching the exact same film again but done on a larger budget. The film is clearly made to appeal to fans of El Mariachi and Mexploitation cinema in general, and the fact that it uses above-average production values to create a Hollywood film in such a style is certainly an innovation of its own right. It's just that Desperado ultimately has even less narrative originality than El Mariachi.
To get past the narrative familiarity of Desperado, Robert Rodriguez packs the experience full of undeniable energy as fuel to keep viewers distracted. It may lose its tempo during the moments where the film attempts to have actual drama such as the overly familiar concept of the romantic subplot, but most of the time there is a lot of passionate life and contant movement in Desperado. As conventional as the story is, Desperado cuts through things at a powerful speed which keeps the experience consistently entertaining. The director's keen eye for imagery is to thank for that becauuse he capitalizes on the dry beauty of the scenery and the efforts of the cast with a combination of long shots and close-ups. The action style very heavily mimics that of John Woo's. Though he shots are significantly shorter, Robert Rodriguez makes a powerful use of plenty of slow motion and quick-cuts to provide an exhilarating spectacle of entertainment. He also doesn't hold back on the blood as there is plenty of red exploding across the screen whenever it is necesarry, hitting the exploitation mark with ease. And the entire time this is happening, the soundtrack keeps playing out with guitar tunes that vary between high-octane action themes and genuine mariachi music. Desperado manages to capture some stylish action pieces and remain richly atmospheric the entire time, hitting the mark well.
And the cast of Desperado manage to empower the experience with their own distinctive charms.
In the first film to propel his status to that of an action star, Antonio Banderas proves a perfect fit for the role of the Mariachi. Replacing Carlos Gallardo, Antonio Banderas makes a more iconic character out of the role due to the nature of his physical energy and seductive charm. Intense from the get-go, Antonio Banderas stays powerfully engaged with his character's quest for vengeance and never loses sight of the Mariachi's violent ambitions which he conveys through the raw nature of his line delivery and undying physical passion. Antonio Banderas essentially dances his way through many action scenes as if he is performing the Tango as a piece of performance art with weaponry, and he moves along at a rate which is swift yet also smooth. Antonio Banderas was born to play the Mariachi because he takes the nameless hero into unforgettable territory with his raw passion for the action, drama and romance of the story. He gets it from every angle and is able to change his emotional state in an instant whenever the story demands it of him. Antonio Banderas lights up the screen in Desperado, and its truly a sign of powerful things to come.
Salma Hayek also brings a notorious effort to Desperado. Her character Carolina is essentially a recreation of Domino from El Mariachi, only with more edge given to her. Salma Hayek is able to highlight this through using her passionate line delivery to illuminate the melodrama and fearlessly picking up a weapon any time she is required to put up a fight. Her raw sex appeal also makes her a treat on the eyes and her chemistry with Antonio Banderas elevates the love story beyond its conventional roots. Salma Hayek makes a fine addition to Desperado, and the start of something great for herself also.
Steve Buscemi's supporting effort is likable, and Quentin Tarantino adds a humourous cameo to the experience. And last of all, Danny Trejo's brief role is nothing short of iconic for him due to the merciless joy he takes in flailing weapons around. Given the long line of work he would go on to share with Robert Rodriguez, it's awesome to see it beginning with such a small but essential role in Desperado.
Desperado may not prove to offer much of an innovative story due to the abundance of familiarity it shares with its predecessor, but with Robert Rodriguez's passion for exploitation he is able to turn Desperado into a powerful display of exhilarating Hollywood action and a perfectly befitting star vehicle for Antonio Banderas
Right down to the bone, Desperado is everything an explosive actioner should be: all-out style and burly badassery with seldom a dull moment and many a silly one. Inventive camera-positioning and sub-zero slo-mo give us suspense scenes that'd give Alfred Hitchcock a run for his money, and Desperado gives us so much bang for our buck, we don't even care that its characterisation is taco-thin, if not even a little embarassing.
Desperado dabbles with the ultra-fun formula which would eventually evolve into the likes of Grindhouse and Machete. The movie proves that even before From Dusk till Dawn, Rodriguez was fast emerging as the new king of action cool.
After the events of "El Mariachi", our protagonist continues to travel looking for vengeance and now his target is a drug lord known as "Bucho".
"El Mariachi" was a solid, entertaining and promising directorial debut that followed the typical western formula so it had potential for improvement but unfortunately "Desperado" couldn't fulfill this task. "Desperado" counts with Rodriguez´s over the top but inventive directing, Banderas works as cliché protagonist, the cinematography is better, the location is beautiful, a campy vibe that manages to be amusing throughout the film´s running time, and over the top violence that gives this film some style. The big issue I have with "Desperado" is that it mostly follows the story and formula of its predecessor: The same plot points, replicates several sequences, the action is shot exactly the same, a score that feels improvised, stereotypical characters, the fast pacing, acting that is nothing great but is incredibly fun to watch, creative and over the top action scenes and the same humor. And while the majority of all those elements are improved due to the bigger budget, it lacks the indie charm that made "El Mariachi" so memorable and it is instead replaced with a over the top action vibe that is so laughable and ridiculous. Another problem this sequel suffers is the fact that the plot is irrelevant as the film is more focused on the action sequences rather than telling a logical, cohesive and well written story.
"Desperado" is a ridiculous film that feels like a remake of "El Mariachi" but it still manages to be incredibly fun, even though it is an inferior film. If you like action films/westerns you will like this film more than I do. A fun and entertaining but mindless film.