Should I Watch..? Desperado
What's the big deal?
Desperado is an action film released in 1995 and marks the second film in director Robert Rodriguez's so-called Mexico trilogy. Essentially, the film is a remake of his 1992 low-budget, Spanish-language debut El Mariachi (1) which tells the story of a vengeful guitar player wrecking his revenge on those who murdered his beloved. Although the budget was considerably greater than the $7000 used to shoot his first film, it was still far short of what was normally spent on an action movie of this kind. But Rodriguez knows how to get the most out of his money and Desperado became the film that launched not only his career in Hollywood but also brought Salma Hayek (and arguably star Antonio Banderas) to mainstream attention.
What's it about?
The film opens with an American in a bar, talking about how he witnessed a violent massacre at another bar perpetrated by a mysterious Mexican carrying a guitar case full of guns. While the bar owner is uninterested in his story, the American mentions the name "Bucho" and suddenly, everyone is listening very carefully. Meanwhile, the Mexcian in question - a one-time Mariachi - arrives in town and proceeds straight to the bar which ends in a violent shoot-out.
Rescued by book store owner Carolina, the Mariachi recovers from his wounds and reveals that Bucho was the one who killed his former lover and that he is out for revenge. But Bucho is not some small-time hoodlum - he is a local drug lord with numerous men and weapons at his disposal and upon learning that El Mariachi is in town, Bucho orders his men to find him and kill him regardless of who gets in the way...
Joaquim de Almeida
Buscemi / The American
Release Date (UK)
9th February, 1996
What's to like?
Desperado might lack the intensity (only just, though) or production values of the likes of bigger films like Die Hard (2) but what it lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in fun. With its tongue firmly in cheek, the film blows you away from the start with its winning blend of cartoony gun play, Latino setting and the unforgettable presence of Hayek who smoulders like desert heat throughout the picture. Banderas is equally as memorable as El Mariachi whose single-minded quest for vengeance doesn't allow an overly complicated plot to get the way like it did in the muddled conclusion to the Mexico trilogy, Once Upon A Time In Mexico (3).
You forget that you're watching a B movie because it looks like a quality product. The action is some of the best old-school stunt work I've ever seen and still packs a serious punch even these days. And despite the chaos and amidst the hilarious shoot-out with the three Mariachis together, the film still manages to include a little bit of uncertainty about whether our hero survives. But it doesn't last - not with humorous cameos from Buscemi, Marin and Tarantino. Even de Almeida has his moments as the increasingly desperate Bucho who's well aware that the man with the loaded guitar case is coming for him.
- Robert Rodriguez claims that on the day of shooting the love scene, the entire crew turned up to watch. They would have been disappointed as only the actors, the script supervisor and Rodriguez himself were in the room.
- The film's budget was so small (just $7 million) that only two stuntmen were ever used and all of Buscemi's scenes had to be shot in seven days because they couldn't afford him for any longer. Marin's scenes had to be shot in six for the same reason.
- The crotch cannon seen in Banderas' guitar case was also used by Tom Savini in From Dusk Till Dawn (4). It originally appeared in the sex scene, accidentally blowing a hole through his guitar while he was playing until it was deleted from the finished film.
What's not to like?
There are times when the screenplay lets the film down. Aside from a brief flashback and the determined Mariachi stating that Bucho is the last to be killed for his vengeance to be complete, we get next to no exposition. How many have been claimed by the murderous Mariachi and what exactly sparked his bloody quest? How did the American fit in to his story? I'm sure the answers lay in El Mariachi but so far, it's proved a difficult film to track down and watch so my ignorance remains intact.
Some may argue that Desperado needed a bit of depth and perhaps that's true. But I prefer the simplistic nature of the film as it keeps the pace flowing between action scenes (and there are a lot) and doesn't offer too many distractions. Frankly, it's rare to find an action film as pure as this. Lastly, I wanted to know more about Trejo's mysterious Navajas character who looks uncannily like a precursor to his more well-known role in Machete (5). There needed to be more scenes with him because a) it's a cool character and b) it's Danny Trejo!
Should I watch it?
Desperado remains one of the best old-school shooters, a riotous mix of comedy and bullets fuelled by the sizzling Banderas and Hayek and expertly helmed by the director Rodriguez. It's starting to show its age in places but for a film made on the cheap, you'd expect that. What you don't expect is how polished, exciting and fun this electric blast of mayhem really is and how he sadly went from this to the terminally tiresome Spy Kids (6) franchise.
Great For: action fans, 90's theme nights, Mexicans, indie cinema
Not So Great For: quiet nights in, thinkers, under 18's
What else should I watch?
Is it wrong or misguided to compare Desperado with Die Hard? After all, they're both exceptional action movies that catapulted their lead actors to superstardom. But Die Hard had a much bigger budget and crew (not to mention ambition and scale), a rising star in Bruce Willis on top form and was based on an existing novel whereas Desperado had none of these things. But if it were to come down to which one I'd rather watch again... I'm not sure I could choose.
Of course, action movies these days seem inexorably linked to the all-conquering power of CG thanks to the success of The Matrix (7). But there are a few films out there that still stick to tried-and-tested methods of stunt-work and pyrotechnics - Casino Royale (8) brought a much-needed realism back to 007 after being heavily influenced by The Bourne Identity (9). But I reckon that Crank (10) is as close as you'll get to the same levels of lunacy found here - an adrenaline-fuelled joyride through the seedier parts of LA with Jason Statham which feels like its own video game adaptation and is much more fun than it sounds. A pity that the sequel took it too far...