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Busted Tees


2003, dir. Robert Rodriguez
101 min. Rated R.
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe.

Review by Justin Patterson
The biggest Mexican you've ever seen ("big as shit!") has to deal with a bunch of actors that he thought he'd killed in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO!

This is not DESPERADO part two, or even EL MARIACHI part three. While I love the raw style that is oozed out of DESPERADO and I came to see this movie based on that premise, the two are not much alike. Don't get me wrong: I still dug it. If reviewers are to be believed, that puts me in a small and very exclusive group. Then again, the professionals who review films assured us that ANIMAL HOUSE was dreck and would never amount to anything. That movie taught my generation the joys of togas, doing the gator and college life. While OUATIM (can we sound that out?) is not in the same league, I liked it.

In this film, Señor Banderas takes something of a backseat to a true ensemble cast. The film is not all about him and does not really center on him, though his part is integral.

Incidentally, I will not attempt to name Banderas' character for you. Doing that is like naming Ed Norton's character from FIGHT CLUB. One is commonly called El and the other Jack, but neither really hits the mark.

Let's give you the gist. The passionate, driven and haunted man of DESPERADO is gone. His wife, Carolina, and his daughter have been killed and he was shot repeatedly. If you don't think this will break a man, just see what Ed Norton looks like a year from now when Salma cuts him off. He's not killing. He's not hunting anyone. He's just living in a small village, accepting various forms of tribute from the townsfolk who quietly remember who he was. He has trained himself to be content just to play the guitar and be. It's all very Zen. In this respect, it brings to mind the great samurai films of earlier decades. The hero, his mission apparently fulfilled, seeks peace and tranquility in the simple things. Then, like with the mob, he's sucked back in due to a combination of honor and revenge.

He's hired to kill the president of Mexico. We're not entirely sure until the end of the film just why he accepted the job, though ennui may play a role. He's asked to assemble his crew and is assured that they will all be well paid.

If you cannot work your way through reading Tom Clancy or Nelson DeMille, you may not get through this film. It's not as simple as El Mariachi. It plays like a political thriller reads. The plot is simple, when you get past the fact that it has as many double-crosses as Wild Things does, without the benefit of the Neve/Denise sandwich.

The cast of the film was remarkable, though there were some surprises. Banderas and Dafoe are largely unremarkable. Banderas' character transformation was a pleasant surprise. He truly has the haunted look down, and the complete lack of light in his eyes speaks well of his acting ability. It is easy to believe that his spirit has been destroyed. Dafoe was a nice choice to play the drug kingpin, though the part could have been played by any competent Hispanic actor (and preferably one that we're not scarred from seeing in pantyhose. See BOONDOCK SAINTS).

Salma Hayek is welcome eye candy, though her presence actually detracted from the film. I believe that the film would have flowed more smoothly if we only knew of the things in the main character's past, rather than being forced to watch as he remembers them. It's like the difference between WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. The later film tried to show us everything that the main character saw, while the earlier one believed that we could use our imaginations to better effect.

Johnny Depp was a pleasant surprise. I don't know why I'm surprised, especially after his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow earlier in the summer, but I was. His character seemed like pure fluff at the beginning, but his quirks and seemingly supernatural qualities bear out well later in the film. Director Robert Rodriguez made sure to flesh the character of CIA officer Sands better than he did most of the others. In watching the film, you will appreciate the implicit humor in the false arm. Also, his T-shirts were amusing. He goes from wearing a CIA (Cleavage Inspection Agency) shirt while rigging a bullfight in favor of the bull to sporting an I'm With Stupid T, complete with the arrow pointing downwards. Towards the end of the film, he takes the cake as we realize he's wearing one with the Taco Bell chihuahua. Tacky and puerile, but amusing nonetheless. His character was given much of the style that was largely missing from DESPERADO.

Mickey Rourke was there. He had some style. He had some quirky dialogue. Hell, he had a chihuahua. Again, I think that this role could have been played by a few thousand other not-quite-has-beens, but Mickey did a decent job with what he was given. In the interest of resurrecting dead actors from DESPERADO for the film, I think it would have been much more interesting to see Steve Buscemi (or even Tarantino!) playing this role. That would have made it more quirky (read: memorable).

Eva Mendes turned out a pretty good performance as the lady cop who gets no respect and needs it, especially in a country that is known for its Gump-level law enforcement. She also gets a few plot twists to play with, and wears a lot of tight shirts. She plays a more pivotal role as the film goes on, and Depp's character Sands quickly realizes that he has to look at her through a different set of eyes.

Danny Trejo - I love this man. He's not a great actor. He's just a mainstay of Rodriguez films who finally gets more dialogue than many other characters. Yes, he's back from the dead. I still wouldn't want to piss him off. He's one of the few characters in this film who can actually make the emotionally dead Banderas blink.

Cheech Marin is back from the dead. I think that he's been killed in Rodriguez films more than any other actor. He's not the bartender, though he IS in a bar. Sadly, he doesn't make it all of the way through this film, either. The tequila just goes right through him.

SURPRISE OF THE NIGHT: Enrique Iglesias and Marco Leonardi were truly enjoyable. They inherited much of the style of Desperado that wasn't written into the Banderas character. They work well with each other, and Iglesias has a good screen presence. They are the other mariachis who play with Banderas, since he manages to kill off everyone else who has played with him. Iglesias is charming without being obvious about it, and Leonardi's love of the fruit of the vine just reminds me of college.

Ruben Blades - Wow. I had seen the man act before, but it never struck me that he's actually pretty good at it. His character has a lot of the conflict and duplicity that we would expect from the writer, but is missing from so many of the other characters.

This movie was not the stylistic action-packed shootout that I was expecting. Instead, it was more of a drama and political thriller. As the credits rolled, I realized that it didn't bother me. It was a very different kind of film, but the filmmaker is maturing and so, one supposes, are his tastes. All things considered, I'll probably catch it again at the dollar theater. If you're not sure about seeing it, catch it at the dollar movie rather than waiting for it to hit video. The sound alone is worth making sure you see it on the big screen. All things considered, it's still head and shoulders above watching A BEAUTIFUL MIND or THE ENGLISH PATIENT.


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