Robert Rodriguez's 2003 offering, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the completion of his El Mariachi trilogy, more or less, despite the fact that none of the original cast of the first $7,000 El Mariachi has returned, I'm assumpting... in this case, you follow the new standard sequel rules, as basically laid down by megahits like the Indiana Jones films and the Lethal Weapon films. To an existing myth and legend, you add a few new key characters (Jones), and you add that the hero and heroine have a baby (LW4). That the heroine and baby are revisited in flashback because of the tragic death that befell them (spoiler alert) just makes the myth and legend... all the more myth-y and legend-y, I guess.
Salma Hayek returns as the heroine from 1995's Desperado and, as one of the characters in the movie informs us, she's perhaps the most beautiful woman we've ever met. Unfortunately, she shows a lot less skin here than she did in Desperado... except for her very smooth tummy. Why, it practically has a starring role all its own. All the girls in the audience want to get the workout DVD involved now! Feminine and muscular, but not to the point of freaky egg-crate like abs. Frankly, Once seems to have considerably less bite than Desperado, generally. For example, in Desperado, Quentin Tarantino visited the worst toilet in all of Mexico. Clearly, Rodriguez took the studio's notes to heart about that. And all we get in terms of weapons to pack inside a guitar case is a mere flame thrower. I feel cheated. Downright cheated.
Now, to be even more frank, there's nothing the American audience likes more than a good myth and or legend... and that's part of the problem. The myth/legend market's saturated these days, frankly, and the rise of the very snooty myth/legend connoisseur class continues unabated. Much like the focus test audience on The Simpsons, we want a realistic myth that deals with real emotions and complex, modern problems... that also features aliens and dinosaurs. Something like that.
As for the more hardcore science nerds among us, well... you've probably had your earful of them already. Take the sequence involving Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and the chain that binds both their wrists together. It's a pretty cool, breathtaking sequence, and I'm guessing it informed the thinking of at least Martin Campbell before he fired up the old creative juices going into his Zorro sequel, then right on into Casino Royale (2006) right after. But then... it dies the death of a thousand plot holes. Sure, it looks like it's actually Banderas and Hayek hanging there a hundred feet above the ground, which could also mean that Mexican movie stars have considerably less rights than we first thought.
Anyway, so they awaken from slumber, and Antonio looks out the window, in that movie star way of his, to see two guys in army fatigues with machine guns. They start to fire. The bullets hit the wall just above his head. The chained twosome make a break for it. They then find themselves on the balcony just outside their room. There's, like, four or five soldiers with machine guns and they all start to fire... now, seriously, are they ALL that bad of shots? Is the balcony just THAT good at repelling bullets? Who's with me? And so, they start their mythic escape from the tiny window on the top floor. They use the chain to their mutual benefit, and swing from floor to floor on their way down. More shooters are positioned outside, all with machine guns, and the bullets fly anew. Enough bullets fly to knock the external metal staircase from its mooring, and it falls, crunching a car in the alley below (right in time with the music, BTW). Again, I ask... really? Seriously? Not ONE bullet of the hundreds that are now flying? Not ONE hits either Banderas or Hayek? Hmm. Must be part of that whole legend and or myth thing. I mean, it's pushing the luck of BOTH Jules and Vincent, I'm just sayin'. And then, of course, there's the matter of them hanging on to the building with their mere hands. One hangs on as the other jumps and or gets thrown to the floor below. As one of my viewing companions quietly observed, "I don't think they're strong enough to hang on." Again, the legend and or myth. Or, in even more Simpsons terms, a wizard did it! Love that show.
As for the finale, well... writer/producer/associate producer/director/cameraman/caterer Rodriguez does a fine, workman-like job of setting up the final conflict between the good guys and Mexican General Bad Guy and his dozens of soldiers. I hate to spoil the surprise, so I'll try not to, but the fate of the assassin's target turned out happily enough. And most everyone went on to bigger and better things. Take Julio Iglesias' son, for example, who's now the king of some of the douchebaggiest songs you'll ever hear. Tonight I'm loving you, my girlfriend's on vacation and she doesn't need to know, what have you. Well, admittedly, he's gorgeous enough to pull off the occasional and or regular basis adultery. As for Johnny Depp, well... I was a little unclear if he was playing one character or several, but I'm pretty sure he was doing a Brando impression in the confession booth, that I'm pretty sure of. Depp gets to be a bit of a legend here in his own right, ending up as The CIA Man with No Eyes (and, for some reason, a Mechanical Third Arm), let's say. Spoiler alert.
As for the cinematography, well... the older I get, the more I see some films as a travelogue of places I'll probably never see in person. The more popular term is, of course, "stay-cation." Uggh. Now, I love America probably not as much as the red states do, but I'm always more impressed with Mexican architecture than our own. It's got something: panache, style, zazz, zing, zork, better pastels, what have you. They can't all be mere monoliths of steel and glass, right? And even though the art of digital cinematography was relatively new when this was made, Rodriguez learned early on that the trick is to keep the camera AS STILL AS POSSIBLE, ALL THE TIME. Sure, mostly to give it that indie feel, but any time you do a pan shot (i.e., moving the camera around when it's on a mere tripod), things tend to get streaky. Even now, but the art of the digital aperture is constantly improving. Some have called Rodriguez a pioneer of digital cinematography, but they tend to forget about Michael Mann's Ali, for one. For him, I guess it was an improvement, but the film still cost $100 million to make anyway.
I will take this opportunity to report that we just happen to get a TV upgrade. As sort of a post-celebration victory lap of the occasion, the chief viewing planner of the household went to the pawn shop, and Once was one of the titles obtained there. DVD, Superbit version. Now, I can't speak to the mythic and or legendary status of Superbit DVDs in general, as the only other Superbit title we have is 1997's Starship Troopers. The original, as opposed to the too-many-to-count direct-to-DVD sequels that followed. Now maybe it's just the Blu-Ray talking, but you're kinda letting me down, Superbit! As for my final summation about myths and legends and Rodriguez' part in all of it, I will say that Once is quite understated compared to the Machete that was soon to follow.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan