John Woo goes to Mexico
One-man studio, Robert Rodriguez blew people away with his sophomore effort, Desperado, shot on a limited budget it boasts a star turn from Banderas, decent support, colourful cameos and enough balletic gunplay to make John Woo grin.Rodriguez has always been a guerrilla director, with improvisational tactics that have transformed his limited budget productions into unexpectedly stylish, fun, shoot-from-the-hip outings, but this was an early pinnacle in his career. Writer, producer, editor, cinematographer, composer, production designer, visual effects supervisor, sound editor and, of course, director of most of his movies, Rodriguez does it all, and largely does it well.Sure, his bigger budgeted productions have not fared as well – with his biggest film, Sin City 2, struggling to capture the gritty glory of its predecessor – but he’s made some undeniable gems over the years (From Dusk Til Dawn, Sin City), and all for a fraction of what Hollywood would spend, to far less impressive effect. This has arguably never been more apparent than with his 1995 sophomore vehicle Desperado.
A sort-of sequel/remake/reboot to his striking $7,000 (!!) debut, El Mariachi, which upped the budget by a still minimalist factor of 1000, and delivered the kind of gun-crazy slo-mo tastic action overload that has John Woo’s name written all over it.
As dual pistols are wielded (in a frequently joyous fashion reminiscent of the literal gun-slinging of Mark Millar’s Wanted), and bullets and bodies (quite literally) fly across the room, one wonders whether Antonio Banderas’s mariachi-turned-gunfighter may be the distant Mexican-American cousin to Woo’s go-to shootist, Chow Yun-Fat, imbuing his character here with the same visible internal angst and surprising abhorrence towards the thing that he does so well: pulling the trigger.
Desperado is arguably the best in Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy, but also one of the best films of his career, which isn’t bad for a second feature.
Joining him for the ride there are plenty of familiar faces, and not just Rodriguez regulars, with cameos for Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino and – in the precursor to his later Machete character – Danny Trejo, as well as Salma Hayek’s beauty (and palpable chemistry with Banderas) and Joaquim de Almeida’s scenery-chewing energy as the villain of the piece.
Fun and surprisingly funny, bombastic and bloody, sexy and stylish as hell, Desperado is a blistering actioner that frequently achieves what films ten times the budget could only dream of. Hell, nobody even noticed that Rodriguez didn’t even have the budget to shoot an ending, such was his scene-dissolving prowess. As a mid-season highlight in the decade which saw action classics taking a downward turn, Desperado is a great little entry.
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