Once Upon A Time In Mexico (4)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


 During the last quarter of this year, Hollywood will present us with a plethora of horror films, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Cabin Fever, Cold Creek Manor, to name only a few.  Iím not an aficionado of horror films.  But they do have their strange morality.  They show violence and gore as scary things, things to be avoided.  They show death as something to fear.  They show killers as bad, bad people.  They inspire a gut-wrenching, emotional response to violence, gore, and death.

 Once Upon A Time In Mexico, however, is a part of a genre that, to me, is Hollywood at its most immoral.  These films show death and gore without any emotional involvement whatever.  People die and are tortured without fear or loathing.  Torture and death are just as commonplace as drinking a glass of water.  Bad people are just other people, not to be feared.  In fact, the only emotional involvement in any of the thousands of deaths that we see throughout the 98 minutes of this film, is El Mariachiís (Antonio Banderas) grieving for the death of his wife, Carolina (Selma Hayek), which occurred shortly after the last film, Desperado, ended eight years ago!

 If you look at the cast, you think youíre in for a treat; in addition to Banderas and Hayek, Cheech Marin, Mickey Rourke, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Armendariz, accomplished actors all.  How could it miss?  Let me count the ways. 

First, Banderas, a talented man, has a role that defines one-dimensional.  This part doesnít require acting, only an impassive body.  Second, Hayek is little more than a cameo, appearing only in flashbacks.  Third, Dafoe and Rourke arenít in it much more than Hayek.  Fourth, the main point of this film is to show as much gore and as many violent deaths as possible.  Do you want to see a manís eyes gorged out?  Youíll see it here.  Do you want to see a film that averages what seems like ten deaths per minute?  Youíll see it here.

 But do you want to see a reasonable story?  A good script?  A love interest?  Suspense?  Something interesting?  Forget it, you wonít see them here.  This is just an exercise by writer-producer-director-cinematographer-editor-composer, jack of all trades, master of none, Robert Rodriguez in pop-film making, an over-the-top action film with a lot of bullets, lots of people shot on top of tall things, falling long ways, lots of people getting shot when you donít expect it.  But, letís face it, how dumb can an audience be?  After the first several, maybe itíll start to expect that maybe somebodyís going to get shot within the next few seconds whether it looks like it or not.

 Johnny Depp contributes another strong performance in a weak film, following up on his performance in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Marin gives a good performance, as does Rourke, who is hard to recognize in his new, puffy, Marlon Brando-like body.

 Youíll notice that Iím now in the seventh paragraph of this critique and I havenít mentioned the plot.  Well, thereís a reason.  The raison díetre of this is the humorization and trivialization of violence.  You want a plot?  Although itís hard to determine, apparently a drug lord, Barillo (Dafoe), wants to kill The President (Pedro Armendariz).  El Mariachi for some reason is trying to stop it, I guess, and to gain revenge against General Marquez (Gerardo Virgil), who killed Carolina in Desperado, and what Depp, who is apparently a rogue CIA agent, Sands, is doing is anybodyís guess, but heís in a lot of scenes, thank God.  To call it convoluted would be to give it too much credit.  This thing is so obtuse itís an insult to language to use words longer than one syllable to criticize it.

 I think this is intended to be a comedy (with thousands of graphic, bloody deaths; yeah, thatís real funny).  There are a few good lines.  The cinematography is pretty good.  The best part of the film is the post-production. The subtitles are in bright yellow so you can always read them.  Hooray!  Finally, in 2003, filmmakers have figured out how to put in readable subtitles!  Up until now they could conquer space, make people fly, rebuild and sink the Titanic, have John Wayne advertise products that didnít exist when he was alive, but couldnít figure out how to put in subtitles that didnít blend in with the backdrop.  (Pardon this digression, but in a horrible new film called So Close, a film far too dreadful for me to critique, the filmmakers inserted a white strip on the bottom of some of the scenes and then inserted subtitles in white!  Remember the movie The Invisible Man?  So Close should be called The Invisible Subtitles.  These people had to actually take post-production action to insert this white strip and then take post-production action to insert white subtitles.  Can you spell stupid?).  But thereís another issue with the subtitles, which seems to set an inexplicable double standard.  The vulgarity MotherF---- is spoken in English several times.  But when itís spoken in Spanish, itís not translated into a subtitle!  What?  Itís OK to speak it, but itís not OK to write it?  What am I not understanding here?

 Films like Once Upon A Time In Mexico can tend to desensitize viewers to violence and can result in a more violent society.  There are some people who might like this.  Iím not among Ďem.

 September 13, 2003

 The End