There’s a precedent for people who star in low budget movies just to help a buddy out but then keep acting and end up with big careers almost by accident. Bruce Campbell in THE EVIL DEAD, for example. Or Owen and Luke Wilson in BOTTLE ROCKET. You could even say Sharlto Copley, a filmmaker who Neil Blomkamp wanted to put in DISTRICT 9, and the next thing you know he’s a member of the A-Team!
So it’s not surprising that Robert Rodriguez’s buddy and co-producer Carlos Gallardo’s starring role in EL MARIACHI wasn’t his last. Sure, he was replaced by Antonio Banderas in the sequel (and knocked down to a smaller role), but in 1998 he got to play another title character in the mostly-English-language Mexican production BRAVO. This time he’s not a regular guy, he’s “best of the best” Mexican Secret Service agent Carlos Bravo, who’s secretly in love with the president’s daughter. (Don’t worry, she’s an adult.) Rather than guitar he plays pretty violin music for her (badass juxtaposition).
But when the daughter is spotted sneaking out of Bravo’s room he gets fired. Luckily he has his leather jacket there and his hog parked at the front door, so he’s able to drive off into a new life.
When we pick up a year later he’s in a bar… except the guy in the leather jacket turns around and it’s not him. Oh shit, Bravo is the guy on the other side of the room singing. He’s the leader and violin player of a mariachi band, this time more traditionally dressed than the one he played before.
In the grand action movie tradition, he gets to punch a drunk asshole who’s picking on them at the bar where they play. Unfortunately no one is thrown through furniture or anything.
It’s in his capacity as a mariachi that Bravo ends up being present when some terrorists abduct the president. The band are playing at a big mansion party where the president is being honored when the shit goes down. So technically he’s a wrong place wrong time type of guy, but it’s the same security guys he used to work with who are there, so it’s not that thing where everybody is surprised by his skills or has to explain his legend.
It should also be noted that the Secret Service clearly did not do background checks on the mariachis, much less notice Bravo’s obvious fake mustache disguise.
So it’s no surprise that he’s the one who notices the evil looking guy half-hiding behind a tree, and that the staff “look like thugs, not caterers.” The security guys don’t believe him but that something’s up, but then a car blows up, dudes start shooting everybody with machine guns and Jeeps full of soldiers storm in. There’s flames, people getting shot into swimming pools, out of trees, the works.
BRAVO is a low budget movie, but more like A.I.P. low budget. Compared to EL MARIACHI it’s gigantic, with tons of shootouts and squibs, a big resort hotel location as the president’s hacienda, a helicopter, explosions. A making-of featurette on the DVD proves that director Lorena David (who worked with Rodriguez’s buddy Tarantino on PULP F– oh wait, no, I read that wrong, she was the co-producer of PLUMP FICTION) had a big crew, a crane, and even a chair for Gallardo to sit in between scenes.
It also verifies that the movie was designed specifically as a Carlos Gallardo vehicle, pitched as “EL MARIACHI meets DIE HARD.” The story (written by Eric Sherman, who mostly seems to work on English dubs of Japanese films) is actually nothing like EL MARIACHI. There’s no mistaken identity, he’s not a regular guy. But he is a mariachi who is “probly the best chance the president has” in a DIE HARD type siege. Since it’s Mexico the people in the war room that he talks to on the outside do not have the same type of resources as the guys in the UNDER SIEGE movies. They’re in a cave with some netting, a map, some photos and a magnifying glass.
Gallardo doesn’t look much different from how he did in EL MARIACHI. He’s just as skinny, but his hairline is a little receded (as a tribute to DIE HARD?) and the back of his hair is shaved, like a defiant erasure of the mild mullet he had in EL MARIACHI. But to be honest when it skipped forward a year and he had the longer hair again I was relieved. I’m comfortable with that hair. I spent the early parts of the movie trying to figure out if he looks more like Howie Mandel or Steve Guttenberg. That was a mistake because those are the good parts of the movie, you should save such musings for later on.
In the opening scene Bravo has a fight on top of some scaffolding, and he gets down by jumping off holding onto some helium balloons.
That seems like a good sign that there will be lots of inventive little bits of action, like a Hong Kong movie, but that doesn’t really come to fruition. After a pretty promising, action packed set up, like many DIE HARD rip offs it loses all momentum. Bravo is sneaking around, taking out some of the guards and what not, and teams up with the president’s son whose tattling got him fired. There’s alot of talking, which works when you have great characters like in a DIE HARD or UNDER SIEGE, but doesn’t work when you don’t.
It is pretty cool that he’s wearing the fancy mariachi outfit. Seems like all the little metal things would clank and give away his location, but the look is iconic. And the big white collar kinda looks like SCARFACE, which maybe is why the cover copies that black and white split type design. I guess in tribute to John McClane he ends up in a white tank top, but still with the mariachi pants.
In the end he has the ringleader captured, but he blows him up with dynamite. That’s the kind of decision you can make when you’re not weighed down by the red tape of a government job. That’s why you call in a mariachi.
Also released in 1998, SINGLE ACTION is much more similar to EL MARIACHI than BRAVO. Written, directed, produced by and starring Gallardo, it seems to be his attempt to do what he learned from Robert Rodriguez, the rebel without a crew. He drifts into the same small Mexican town of Acuña (Gallardo’s home town), and inhabits the same/similar locations: bars, hotels, streets. He falls for another bartender. He fights similar criminals, and does similar narration. Instead of a turtle crossing the street there’s a tarantula.
It starts in a Rodriguezian bar, where a beautiful woman (paying tribute to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) has a drinking competition with a big fat guy. A bunch of agents burst in and there’s shootout, but the woman hides safely behind the fat guy.
Like the balloon thing in BRAVO, this is a fun gag but not much of a sign of things to come.
It takes place in the modern day, but his character acts like he’s in the old west, riding into town on a horse (which he trades for a Jeep [the same one from DESPERADO, it turns out]). He wears a Billy Jack style hat, cowboy boots with spurs, has some facial scruff and is always chewing on a cigar, transparently harboring delusions of being Clint Eastwood. In fact he’s a government agent who has come to town investigating political assassinations, as well as the disappearance of the last agent who came to town. Kinda like Seagal’s EPA agent in FIRE DOWN BELOW.
It also seems like he’s trying to do a YOJIMBO/FISTFUL OF DOLLARS thing of playing two sides against each other. And there are two women trying to shoot him all the time. “Who are those broads?” he asks the first time they try to do a drive-by on him. It’s explained that the town is so violent that mainly widows are left. Maybe that’s why they kiss each other, too.
I’m not sure that makes sense, but I like it, it gives the movie a little different flavor. Some of these shots seem like the type of thing Rodriguez parodies in the MACHETE movies:
But it doesn’t seem winky when Gallardo does it. I like it.
Sometimes it seems like a movie a kid would make, imagining what adults are like, and deciding that they spend most of the day drinking coffee and liquor. He comes into a bar and orders coffee, takes one sip of it, and leaves. Then he walks right to an outdoor bar and orders another cup of coffee while doing the classic tough guy move of ignoring a big fight that’s going on. But when they bump and splash his mug he brings a guy to submission in two moves and declares “Good coffee,” while chewing his cigar. Wait a minute, how the fuck is he drinking it with that thing in his mouth?
This is important to bring up. The cigar is definitely the worst thing about the movie. One of the few times he actually smokes it is after he dramatically lights it to prove he’s not scared while a bunch of thugs are standing around him questioning whether they can trust him. In pretty much every other scene he just chews on it. Like most humans he doesn’t have Clint’s eyes to draw your attention, so you just find yourself staring at the mouth of this obvious non-cigar-smoker chewing on a cigar. He might as well have a lollipop or a pacifier. It’s really distracting.
There’s some decent MARIACHI-scale action toward the end. An old guy blows up a car with a bazooka…
…and he swings on a pulley thing to bust some shots at those two women who keep trying to kill him.
I’m not sure why the rope is set up there. Maybe to deliver movies to that video store in the background? But it’s pretty cool, and in the English dub one of the ladies responds by saying “Look at that guy. What a bitch. He’s got alot of nerve.”
I can’t say I enjoyed SINGLE ACTION very much. I do think it’s pretty successful for this type of thing, because there were enough cool parts for me to take a bunch of screen grabs to share with you. But the similarity to EL MARIACHI really shows you how strong the story was in that one and how important that is. It’s also a reminder that most people cannot just turn themselves into Clint Eastwood. Clintness is a rare, God-given gift. Gallardo was much better playing an everyman that rises to the occasion than a guy who’s supposed to have an air of badassness.
Gallardo has appeared in several other low budget independent films, some of which were barely released, if at all, and usually not in the starring role. There’s one called BANDIDO (2004) which sounds along the lines of BRAVO, but he plays “Max Cruz, a.k.a. Bandido.” That one’s actually directed by Roger Christian who was the art director for ALIEN. He was also a set decorator for STAR WARS, and second unit director for RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE PHANTOM MENACE. And, uh, he… well, there’s only one way to say it. He also directed BATTLEFIELD EARTH.
The one I’ll have to check out is CURANDERO, a 2005 horror movie that’s executive produced and co-written by Robert Rodriguez, and directed by Eduardo Rodriguez (no relation), who later did STASH HOUSE with Dolph Lundgren and the very Mariachi-influenced EL GRINGO starring Scott Adkins.
While researching this I noticed that Gallardo actually posted an explanation of the making of SINGLE ACTION as a user review on IMDb:
This movie was dedicated to SERGIO LEONE. The Film is based on actual Political events of Mexico, but the Film language had to be rural. Being a Sergio fan, we decided to make something fast. we were creating something to tell, not something original. That’s it. Very Simple. This Movie was shot in 11 days, with a budget of $11,OOO.OO dollars. It’s the only movie in Existence that followed our “EL MARIACHI” production tricks, shot in the same town, using the same sets. This was just another example that films like “EL MARIACHI” can be done For a Few Dollars More. This Film was shot on 16MM. The 35MM print had a cost of almost $90,000.00 dollars. The reason for the print was because Germany and japan wanted the film for the cinemas. In reality I made this very clear from the beginning. “We are making this film for the video market and nothing else”. To My surprise the sales at AFM were over my expectations and a 35MM print needed to be delivered. In the summer of 1997 “SINGLE ACTION” broke the records of YORK ENTERTAINMENT, making the company grow. KINGSIZE ENTERTAINMENT’S job was only on the Post-production, and the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER’S credit was given to them because we finished the film in their facilities and with their contacts help. That’s it. That’s the Single Trivia.
It sounds like Gallardo approaches movie production more in the mercenary way of the Mexican video market than the “let’s try to do something better!” attitude of young Rodriguez. But it also sounds like he had fun and paid some bills. It seems he’s one of these guys who doesn’t necessarily have filmatism in his blood, but has figured out how to have a career making low budget movies, and that’s more fun than working a day job. Ironically, his friend Rodriguez does have the natural gift for directing, but sometimes seems like he’s emulating the Fred Olen Ray life.
Though Gallardo’s other movies don’t have the same vitality as EL MARIACHI, they do have that rooting-for-the-underdog appeal of can a regular guy pull off starring in a movie? It doesn’t seem his career is one I have to follow closely, but it’s nice that he’s able to live his dream and not be, like, a taxi driver who tells every passenger that he starred in a movie one time in Mexico and it was a big deal and they never heard of it so they don’t believe him.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.