Before Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi
, Mexicans in North American action films were typically maids, drug dealers, or prison inmates. Even if the Cisco Kid was
a friend of yours, you handled a dust cloth or a Mac-10 if you lasted in Hollywood longer than a New York minuto
But when El Mariachi crossed the border in 1992, things changed. Granted, it still involved a drug lord in a shoot-em-up, bang-bang, but this time the good guy was a Mexican.
Austin-based Rodriguez made El Mariachi for a fistful of pesos and a little help from his friends. He wrote, directed, coproduced, edited, and operated the camera. Plus, he assembled a cast that had never acted before to work por nada. All for a paltry $7,000, a milagro without a beanfield war.
Desperado continues the outrageous action adventure. Working with a much bigger budget, Rodriguez returns the nameless mariachi to nonstop action. Again thrust into a world he never made, the hero takes his guitar-case arsenal deep into the criminal labyrinth of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), el gran chingon of the Mexican drug lords. With an amigo (Steve Buscemi) and a beautiful bookstore owner (Salma Hayek), el mariachi confronts an outrageous cast along the way, including a bartender (Cheech Marin), a drug deal pick-up guy (Quentin Tarantino), and the original mariachi (coproducer Carlos Gallardo) as a new-found compa'.
Antonio Banderas has the lead this time, and if he's not quite up to the challenge, it's probably because he's Spanish, not Mexican, a distinction not lost by anyone raised on what the popular media now calls "ethnic food."
That said, Desperado is not to be missed. Using intelligence, romance, and humor--as well as plenty of explosive, surreal violence--Rodriguez again showcases the timeless struggle between the forces of darkness and light. And, in the process, he's recasting the mold for the contemporary action hero--kids now argue about who gets to play the Mexican. --Stephan Magcosta
The double-disc box of Desperado
and El Mariachi
offers a number of worthwhile features: interesting commentary tracks by director Robert Rodriguez on both films, his short film "Bedhead," and two 10-minute featurettes. Note, however, that they're almost exactly the same as those on the previously released two-sided disc; the only differences are the addition of a four-minute preview for the follow-up, Once Upon a Time in Mexico
, and a new transfer of El Mariachi
presented in a slightly wider aspect ratio (1.85 instead of 1.66). The new transfer has richer colors, but hasn't gotten rid of scratches and fuzziness. If you don't already have the two-sided disc, this box is worth the purchase because of the slightly improved quality and significantly lower price, but if you have the other there's no compelling reason to upgrade. Those who don't care about the features and just want Desperado
in the best picture and sound should opt for the Superbit DVD. --David Horiuchi