RELEASE DATE: August 16th
RELEASE DATE: August 25th

DESPERADO is my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie. People will always say the scrappy, home-made, subtitled EL MARIACHI is better, and a strong argument could be made for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, with its Tarantino script and movie-star-making performance by George Clooney. But to me DESPERADO is his purest expression, the full enthusiasm of a young, hungry Hollywood rookie high on spaghetti westerns, John Woo and what his new friend QT was up to, fired into a full-blooded action movie uniquely based in Mexican culture.

The Tarantino influence shows in the talky opening with Steve Buscemi as the Mariachi’s hype man/street team, loudly telling tall tales about him in a bar, and in the scene where Tarantino himself plays a criminal telling a long-winded joke about peeing. But otherwise this has an identity very different from the wave of ’90s crime films, one that’s more visual and musical. He uses lots of slo-mo and dissolve edits working in tandem with a driving Latin rock score by Los Lobos. This is just one example of how the fresh Hollywood hotshot used his newfound resources while insisting on doing it his way. Another is the casting of the leads.

mp_desperadoWhen the Mariachi was an everyman in a no-budget movie, he was Rodriguez’s buddy Carlos Gallardo. Now that he’s a legend in a real movie, he’s turned into Antonio Banderas. Once known for his work with Pedro Almodovar, Banderas had in recent years broken out in the U.S., first with an acclaimed performance as Tom Hanks’s lover in the AIDS drama PHILADELPHIA, then in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. But in this he got to be macho. Rodriguez finds the badass action star in Banderas, but also the lustiness. He’s got him draped in shadows or framed in explosions, long hair blowing in the wind, rocking a scorpion jacket long before DRIVE, hands clutching guns or guitars or Carolina, played by Salma Hayek, who was almost a completely new face to American audiences. She was famous from a telenovella in Mexico, and had a bit part in MI VIDA LOCA. Rodriguez had put her in his made-for-cable movie ROADRACERS to prove to the studio that she was qualified to play Carolina. And of course he was very right. After DESPERADO it was clear she was a movie star.


Banderas in the movie is a cross between Jean-Claude Van Damme and the cover of a romance novel. I used to cringe at the Skinemax x 10 sex-in-a-forest-of-candles montage, but now I get it. Of course that scene has to be in there. These characters, played by these actors, are about to burst with unapologetic sexuality. They gotta do something.

In this one we find the Mariachi some time later, after he’s been drifting around murdering all the kingpins above Moco as revenge for the death of Domino and the injury of his hand. For this reason I think it’s weird that to this day people think it’s a remake of EL MARIACHI. That was a mistaken identity story, this is a revenge story. Revenge for what happened at the very end of that one!

But it does contain some similar elements: a bar run by the crime syndicate, a scary killer wandering around town, inept henchmen who go after the wrong guy, a woman who owns a small business that she lives upstairs from, who helps the Mariachi while somewhat indebted to his enemy. (In EL MARIACHI he was hiding from the enemy, in this one he’s trying to find and kill him.)

The heavy Bucho (Joaquim “Evil Phil Hartman” de Almeida from CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER and later BOBBY Z and FAST FIVE) is similar to Moco in that he mostly lounges around talking on a cordless phone while his henchmen, including a guy with a mustache, go after the Mariachi. Bucho has some good Just How Evil Is He? moments, and his villainy actually gets most of the laughs in the movie. For example there’s the scene where he’s incensed and trying to explain to his men that all they have to do is look for a stranger in town who has a gun and kill him. To demonstrate, he pretends not to recognize one of his most dedicated henchmen and shoots him right in front of everybody. Then he says, “Look. Who are those guys? I’ve never seen them either,” and starts shooting at the other guys as they run and hide. As he sends some men off in the bullet proof limo he shoots at the back window, like slapping somebody on the butt as they leave.

That’s the customary bad guy mistreatment of the help, and the mistreatment of the women is when he’s looking off into the distance while a woman humps him and then blows cigar smoke into her mouth. Not cool.

I also appreciate the traditional action movie shit he has going on on his ranch. He has his henchmen prove themselves in brutal kickboxing matches inside a pen made of sticks and cow skulls. A young fresh-faced kid (Robert Arevalo) earns his place in the organization in a fight where his leg is snapped but then he still knocks his opponent out (or kills him?) with a flying kick to the face. This is a Rodriguezian narrative red herring, because the new henchman is being built up and humanized just to die a quick, generic death exactly like any of the faceless thugs in plaid shirts or ponchos coming after the Mariachi. The character is only credited as “Opponent.” His biggest achievement is killing the wrong guy for the boss.

That would be Navajas, the knife thrower sent to town by the Colombian overseers. He’s played by Danny Trejo, beginning a long partnership with Rodriguez. It was on the set of DESPERADO that Rodriguez first said Trejo should have his own action series, and his attack on a limo here is pretty much restaged in MACHETE. Trejo had been in many legit movies already (DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN, MANIAC COP 2, MARKED FOR DEATH) but his memorable silent stalking here is what made me learn his name, and I suspect the beginning of his current icon status.


But my favorite bad guys are actually the doofuses who keep trying to please Bucho, but keep failing. Their boyish excitement to show him the new bullet proof limo makes me almost feel sorry for them. And they do one of my favorite cowardly henchman moves, when the boss is yelling at them and one pathetically tries to shift all of the blame over to the other:


Rodriguez is, of course, American. Back then I think alot of people assumed, because he’d made a Spanish language movie in Mexico, that he wasn’t. In fact, people used to think his name was Roberto. With that in mind, it’s kind of funny that his first American movie takes place in a world where Gringos are not really welcome. There are two different joke moments where clueless American tourists stumble into the bar and get scared off. Both Buscemi and Tarantino strut in arrogantly and clearly annoy the shit out of everybody the whole time they’re there (mostly because they won’t shut up, but I’m sure their outsider status doesn’t help). And that’s it for white people in the movie, unless you count Banderas, who is from Spain. But he’s playing Mexican.

Rodriguez (who dodged studio suggestions of giving the Mariachi an electric guitar) found ways to involve much more music than in the first movie. Though the Mariachi’s hand was shot by Moco, making it hard for him to play, he still dreams of performing, as we see in the opening credits. Though it’s a dream sequence with cameos by Moco, Mustache and Domino, and a bit where he wacks a woman-abuser in the audience with his guitar, it mostly plays as a sincere celebration of music, in this case an original Los Lobos composition called “Cancion del Mariachi” (with Banderas really singing).

He also teaches a little boy (Abraham Verduzco, SOLO) to play a song, which ends up being an excellent ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST type way to spook the bad guys, since it causes them to hear his song playing outside the scene of one of his massacres.

And Rodriguez really integrates the soundtrack with the sequences. Let’s take a closer look at one of my favorites, the one immediately following the huge shootout that kills everybody else in the bar.


The song “Strange Face of Love” by Tito and Tarantula seems to be wrapping up as the Mariachi leaves the scene, his exit blowing out the candles. A nice ending to a great action sequence. But as he comes back to the sunny outside world we realize that the song is not over, it’s only slid into a quiet breakdown with organ and vocals.

He walks intently across the street…


apparently not seeing this guy…


…actually played by Tito Larriva, the leader of the band doing the song, coming down the sidewalk with a gun.

The organ and guitar stay quiet as the Mariachi walks down the sidewalk in badass slo-mo, his face going in and out of shadow like in Buscemi’s story at the beginning. It keeps cutting from him to Tito following behind, looking for the right time to shoot. Here you can see him over the Mariachi’s shoulder on the right side of the frame. We don’t know if the Mariachi senses he’s being followed or not.


Then the music pauses and blows up just before the Mariachi unknowingly walks past Navajas. Doe he know that guy’s looking for him too?


Tito pulls out another gun, about to make his move.


Navajas perks up, but doesn’t intervene, and just then Salma Hayek walks from across the street into Hollywood stardom.





Great entrance. And then it’s like, oh shit, who is this? The two sexiest humans on the planet at that moment make eye contact as they approach each other…



…as Tito sings “Don’t look back, don’t look back / he’s right on your trail…” Which, as you can see, he is.


So Carolina’s flirty acknowledgment or yeah, I know, I’m hot look changes to wait, are those guns?


And finally it is revealed that the Mariachi knows what’s up because he quickly pushes Carolina out of the way…


… and takes some bullets, then tackles Tito, headbutts him, tucks both guns under his chin, and as the song ends he blows his head off…



…and is dragged to safety like a damsel in distress.

That bit with the blood splattering on his face is probly an homage to HARD BOILED, when Tequila kills the undercover cop at the end of the teahouse shootout. With American shooting schedules and ratings restrictions Rodriguez can’t match Woo’s level of carnage, but he comes closer than most. There are way more guns, bullets, head explosions, splintered wood and piled corpses than in the vast majority of American action. He’s got a gun in each hand, sliding across the floor, running down the bar, shooting behind his back, using Cheech Marin as a stool to jump off of, shooting a ceiling fan down onto a guy’s head, his bullets catapulting people into walls, through furniture, doors and windows. From his back he kicks a guy up toward the rafters and shoots him.


Then he’s able to stand all the way up and shoot a bunch more bullets into the sucker while he’s still in the air. In another scene he jumps backwards from one rooftop to another, firing two guns into people as he falls0. It’s kind of like a thing Blade did once, but without being able to count on vampire healing powers.

I appreciate Banderas’s weird ragdoll movements, throwing himself into it.







Sometimes he looks like he’s using his guns as maracas. He has his own idiosyncratic way of looking tough.

Towards the end there’s a nod to the famous POINT BLANK hallway scene. He walks intensely toward the camera, each footstep echoing loudly. But Lee Marvin was going to shoot his ex-wife, he’s going to take an injured boy to the hospital. He’s got alot of heart.

Somehow it’s always worked for me that the final shootout is covered by a fade out as the Mariachi fires toward the camera. It turns out they actually did shoot a violent scene there, but the cuts required to avoid an NC-17 rating were so severe that Rodriguez decided it would work better to skip the whole thing. It actually would be cool to see the unrated version of this, or at least the deleted scenes.

The guns and the music come together a little before that when the Mariachi gives in and calls two of his friends for help. They are Campa (original Mariachi Carlos Gallardo) and Quino (Albert Michel Jr., CRACK HOUSE), the mariachis backing him up in the opening credits dream sequence, and we now learn that they are badass killers with, respectively, machine gun and bazooka guitar cases. This bit of absurdity foreshadows the type of silliness Rodriguez would later indulge in (gun leg, gun boobs, Mel Gibson in space, President Charlie Sheen) but when grounded in a more serious melodrama type story it’s much more enjoyable. In this context it feels like a ballsy bit of freak flag waving instead of just a joke.

I mean, how did these guys get into this racket? How did he meet them? What did he do that makes them willing to die for him? As cartoonish as the movie is it’s earthbound enough that we wonder about these implied stories. That’s part of the fun.

I love DESPERADO. I know alot of people don’t. They’re missing out. Try it again some time.


DESPERADO got mediocre to poor reviews. I guess it’s not surprising that critics who were charmed by a tiny Spanish-language film starring normal people would not be as into a slick, super-violent, rock ‘n roll gunfest funded by Hollywood and starring ridiculously beautiful people. But the movie helped launch Banderas and Hayek into the A-list. Rodriguez got more respect as director of the best segment of FOUR ROOMS, and then FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.

In the 20 years since DESPERADO he’s directed 14 full length films. Six of them are sequels. Now he has a studio called Troublemaker and a cable network called El Rey. He curates the shows, directed six episodes of its From Dusk Till Dawn series, and hosts its interview show The Director’s Chair. So although I’ve got some problems with his recent movies I guess I can’t say he doesn’t work hard.

Rodriguez continued to work with Banderas, Hayek and especially Trejo, who he put in four FROM DUSK TILL DAWNs (including the TV show), four SPY KIDSes and two (so far) MACHETEs. Here’s how things have changed for Trejo: before DESPERADO he had about 40 credits to his name on IMDb. Right now just his not-released-yet credits number 33.

DESPERADO opened second behind MORTAL KOMBAT, which was in its second week, but it did pretty well on a low budget. Enough that it got the sequel ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO eight years later.

I believe DESPERADO is under-recognized. Sure, people remember that it exists, but they don’t really talk about it, even in an ironic/nostalgic way like they might MORTAL KOMBAT (though that had the advantage of being a video game they already knew and being far more ridiculous). Watching it now it’s a mix of heightened violence and emotion, rockin music and dry humor that only Rodriguez would’ve/could’ve made, and still hasn’t topped. Yes, it’s style over substance, but in a good way. What, you think it would be better if it made some statement about the danger of the cartels or some shit? I disagree.

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81 Responses to “Desperado”

  1. DESPERADO is the first movie I went out to Montreal to see in English (I grew up in French Canadian suburbs). The following year, I actually went all the way to the U.S. to see FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (long story), which was my favorite RR flick for a long time… Might still be, though I loved the bloody hell out of SIN CITY when that came out.

  2. Woah woah woah woah, there are people who don’t like DESPERADO? And it’s (or was) actually the popular opinion to not like it? That is totally blowing my mind. Okay, my first encounter with it was in around 97, when it hit the German pay TV circle and one of my friends couldn’t stop talking about it, so maybe that’s why I’m totally surprised by this. Also I suspect that this seems to be one of those cases, where German critics (or European in general) liked it more than Americans. Oh well, whatever it was: Good movie.

    …people used to think his name was Roberto…

    Yup, they did. The German trailer AND the German VHS cover of FOUR ROOMS (I guess the German theatrical poster too, but I can’t confirm that) refer to him as “Roberto Rodriguez”.

  3. (So that’s what the cite tag looks like in action.)

  4. Crushinator Jones

    August 25th, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I agree with Vern 100%. This film has a perfect alchemy of Latin lustiness, Hong Kong abandon, and American sensibilities. I fuckin’ love this movie.

  5. LMAO yes that scene with all the clueless henchmen is too hilarious. One of my favorites.

    When it comes to DESPERADO though aside from Salma’s breasts and Danny Trejo sharing equal billing as the movie’s MVPs my favorite elements are when Banderas channels the more subdued, humble and naive mannerisms of Gallardo in the original. I think those were excellent callbacks that subtly nicely tie both movies together and help further highlight the character’s evolution. I also love the sheer gangster rappism of Bucho’s nonchalant demeanor when being ridden in bed by some random floozy. Spanish Phil Hartman was pure gold in this.

    Another one of my favorite things was Gallardo himself as the bizarro El Mariachi. I thought it was an interesting look at what he may have looked like in the original idea for a sequel to EL MARIACHI had the original plans gone through. So like you guys yeah I love DESPERADO as well but I also love ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO which most people seem to hate. I just really like how it unapologetically satirizes overtly complex political conspiracy plots in genre fare around that time and to me it has the best score of the entire trilogy. So I’m really looking forward to the review of that one.

  6. This is one of those movies, if somebody doesn’t like it, I don’t even try to argue with them. I’m just like “That’s cool. Don’t worry about it. We don’t need to talk about movies ever again.” Because if the awesomeness of this one is not readily apparent to you, or worse, is mistaken for accidental cheesiness, then I know our spirits are not compatible. You’re not gonna get where I’m coming from and I don’t even want to know where you’re coming from because they don’t like DESPERADO there so that place must suck.

  7. The Original Paul

    August 25th, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Yeah I think this one is great too. What I really like about it is the beautiful combination of the absurdly violent and the violently absurd. If that makes any sense. That scene where Bucho’s thugs can’t find the phone number of his car to let his other henchmen know that they’re walking into a trap… it’s cringe-inducing and hilarious at the same time. And the action in the movie is good enough that I was rooting for them not to get through so that we’d see some thug-on-assassin action (we did).

    I also liked that Rodriguez played the death of Cheech Marin for self-conscious laughs. That could’ve gone really, really wrong, but it didn’t. (Contrast MACHETE, where Marin’s death is played completely straight, and annoyed the crap out of me as a result. I feel like spoiler warnings for both films are unnecessary since I don’t think I’ve yet seen Marin in a film where he didn’t die. This guy rivals freakin’ Sean Bean for movie death percentages.)

    I will give a SPOILER WARNING for this bit though:

    I didn’t know there was actually an action sequence shot for the ending. I just thought it was shot like that so as to leave some mystery about how the heck Banderas managed to get out of it. I love the ballsiness of it – we see de Almeida fall, there’s a torrent of audible gunfire while the screen goes white, then wham… cut to Banderas and Hayek surrounded by the dead bodies of their enemies. I feel like it’s something similar to what happened at the end of SAFE, but unlike that film, DESPERADO made it work. We’ve already had the big action scene, and the final confrontation at Bucho’s base is more of a coda or afterthought to what’s come before. I like that they left what actually happened ambiguous, with only a few audio and visual cues to tell the viewer what might have happened. It felt like a natural and satisfying ending. I don’t know if I can entirely say why it works as well as it does – well, I think the previous action scene is part of it. It just works.

  8. The confrontation between the brothers at the end is also too damn good.

    The look and sound of heartbreak all over Bucho’s face and voice. El Mariachi bowing down and playing the submissive little brother once again. Even when he ends up shooting him he has this pained scared little boy not wanting to hurt his big brother look on his face and not the badass look of confidence he has elsewhere in the movies whenever he is firing his guns.

    Some of the best genuine performance directing I’ve ever seen from Rodriguez.

  9. The Original Paul

    August 25th, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    And I agree with Majestyk (pick your jaws up off the floor, guys, it’s happened before a couple of times over the last six or seven years you know?) The only reason I can see for not actually liking this one is if its particular style of humour puts you off. Which I can entirely understand – that’s an entirely subjective point – but doesn’t account for the negative reaction to the film when it first came out. Other than that, I really don’t see anything to dislike about it, and it works so damn well as an action movie that I’d think the vast majority of fans of the genre would be well into it.

  10. Paul – He never died in the CHEECH & CHONG movies, SHRIMP ON THE BARBIE or BORN IN EAST L.A.

    Hey may have died in TIN CUP though but I’m not too sure cause I’ve never seen that one.

  11. The Original Paul

    August 25th, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Me, two posts ago: “I don’t know if I can entirely say why it [the ending] works as well as it does.”

    Thanks for answering that one Broddie. It’s been a while since I watched DESPERADO, I forget those details.

  12. The Original Paul

    August 25th, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Broddie – I have to confess to having not seen any of those movies except TIN CUP (and I didn’t even remember he was in that one). Although I’ve been wanting to try out CHEECH AND CHONG for a while.

  13. I was 21 when Desperado came out, and I watched the shit out of it. In the theater, then on laserdisc. I haven’t seen it in probably ten years though, and seeing the pictures in this review makes me want to see it again right now. Remembering those scenes, and how awesome they were, that outside of HK at the time you didn’t see that kind of stuff.

    I gotta go buy the blu ray now…

  14. Are there really people who still claim to not like this film, or even under-recognize its obvious greatness? I was under the impression this one was universally beloved.

  15. Am I wrong on that? I don’t come across many fans of it and don’t feel like it comes up for serious discussion even in relation to Rodriguez’s career. I haven’t noticed any signs of new generations discovering it, and thought alot of the old generation dismissed it in comparison to EL MARIACHI and then never watched it again. Do I just run in the wrong circles?

  16. The Original Paul

    August 25th, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Vern – well I run in very very different circles (obviously, since my idiot friends recommended me to go see Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS and I haven’t quite forgiven them for it yet.) But I don’t know anybody who dislikes DESPERADO over here. And as for the forum… I don’t see anybody having anything bad to say about this movie yet.

  17. I definitely remember watching it with two different groups of dude friends who didn’t hate it but didn’t get all that into it either. They mostly just liked it for the unprecedented thermonuclear hotness of Salma Hayek. The poetry of the action was wasted on them.

    That used to happen a lot before I stopped watching movies with dudes.

  18. I should also point out the excellent bonus features on the DVD again. Mostly the “10 Minutes Film School” and the super educational and entertaining audio commentary. For example you learn that during certain big action scenes, Banderas keeps shooting the same two or three stuntmen over and over, just in different clothes. And the story how the super shitty bathroom stall became so shitty, is my favourite little fake-shit-in-film-and-TV anecdote, right after the one that Dave Chapelle told about the making of Tyrone’s turd on his show.

  19. Majestyk, a dude is a donkeys dick anyway.

    I’ll have to give this one a rewatch with less cynical eyes, because the last time I gave it a go it rubbed me the wrong way. Probly mostly because of Banderas’ cabana-boy loverboy schtick. I just can’t buy him as a tough guy. But clearly it’s my problem and I’m in the minority, so I’ll just shut up for now.

  20. Poeface, the aforementioned friend of mine, who couldn’t stop talking about the movie back in school, had the opposite view on Banderas. When EVITA came out, he found it hilarious that the super cool gunslinger from DESPERADO would now act in a “girly musical”.

  21. i don’t know anyone who can or will argue with desperado

  22. So far informal Twitter poll says by about 2-to-1 that you guys are right (universally beloved). I’ll keep you updated.

  23. caruso_stalker217

    August 25th, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    I miss the days when Rodriguez wasn’t shooting his own movies and they looked like real movies. He needs to get back together with Guillermo Navarro.

  24. Love it, seeing it was an absolutely pivotal part of my action upbringing. Violence had never been so sexy and kinetic.

    I once knew a kid who was CONVINCED that Snatch was a remake of Lock Stock. ???

    My favorite Rodriguez films are Sin City, Spy Kids, and Planet Terror. Have always been confounded by tepid reactions to PT, to me it is the most movie it can possibly be and he perfect rush to spend Death Proof coming down from.

  25. I think DESPERADO was the first movie I bought on DVD, the same excellent EL MARIACHI/DESPERADO flipper disc that CJ talked about. I listened to the commentary tracks over and over, really great stuff.

  26. I’ve always liked Desperado, and it was one of the first R-rated (in Canada, where that’s a more exclusive club) movies I saw in the theatre. (I also got a free promotional shot glass for the film when I was too young to legally drink alcohol from it.) I remember talking to some friends who didn’t much like this film, though, and they weren’t exactly movie-idiots. One of them claimed there just wasn’t anything “happening or to care about,” and though I don’t share that sensibility, I sort of know what he means. You need to come at this from a place where Rodriguez’s Latin-fused Raimi/Woo blend is substance enough.

  27. I never knew there was actually a violent finale. They gave it a new special edition Blu-ray years ago. Wonder why they didn’t bother to include that? Let’s hope it’s not one of those pre-DVD lost forever things like the original ending of National Lampoon’s Vacation.

    I would side with Vern on Desperado’s legacy though. I agree I don’t hear anyone talk about it, my generation or younger. Not that anyone’s hating on it, but I would hear From Dusk Till Dawn mentioned a lot more, even before it was a TV show. Dusk had the whole batshit crazy turn at the halfway mark that you were either on board with or not, so either way it was notorious.

  28. AnimalRamirez1976

    August 25th, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Well, it looks like I’m going to be stuck playing the downer here. And I will definitely watch it again based on the enthusiasm of the rest of you here, but the dumbness of this movie was an insurmountable obstacle for me. The moment before Banderas said “He’s my brother” not only did I sarcastically anticipate and say it, but the guy sitting next to me, a complete stranger, did too at the exact same time. We looked at each other but couldn’t even enjoy the serendipity. We were too busy rolling our eyes and sighing that the movie stooped so low. It was the opposite of the time that I was watching Due Date and another stranger and I high-fived when Robert Downey punched the kid in the stomach, then kept laughing so long the people around us got annoyed.

  29. The Original Paul

    August 25th, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Animal – don’t worry about it. Somebody has to keep us honest around here. It’s never fun when this place becomes like an echo-chamber of the same opinion time and time again.

    Honestly I’m just happy whenever it’s not me for once.

  30. Add me to the ‘shocked that there is a negative oppinion of this movie’ group. I’ve only ever heard about it in positive terms. Or like “Shit Once Upon a time in Mexico was no where near as good as Desperado”

  31. I have my entire life been surrounded by anti-DESPERADO people. To the point in which I figured there was something seriously wrong with me liking it. I now know that is bullshit, but twenty years of taste oppression can seriously impact a mans confidence.

  32. I have my entire life been surrounded by anti-DESPERADO people. To the point in which I figured there was something seriously wrong with me liking it. I now know that is bullshit, but twenty years of taste oppression can seriously impact a mans confidence.

  33. Animal – To be fair though that silly twist is not exactly out of the blue. We’ve already seen him get Bucho in his sights only to get upset, not shoot him, and not tell Carolina why when she asks. We’re obviously supposed to wonder why he does this and “it’s his brother” is the most obvious guess.

    Shoot – You and me both. I know a few people who like it but I feel like I’ve spent 20 years defending it from people who think it’s not as good as EL MARIACHI, not as good as Tarantino, too silly, whatever. I still don’t think it’s remembered or discussed enough, but I guess it is generally well liked, which is nice to learn.

  34. I actually watched this with one of my sons last Saturday, and he really, really liked it. So the next generation is taken care of.

  35. Vern, the people I have been hanging with had never even heard of EL MARIACHI. They just flat out dismiss DESPERADO as a dumb movie. To be fair, these are people who are pretty casual movie viewers. Which means when something different or quirky is shown in front of their eyeballs, the reaction is almost immediate dismissal by default. At least your people appreciated EL MARIACHI. My people would have disliked EL MARIACHI even more.

  36. I like to think when Banderas saves the kid it was an homage to THE KILLER.

  37. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Raul Julia was the original choice to play Bucho and sadly passed away before filming began. I always have wondered how differently that would have played. It certainly would have been a better quality final film for him than ‘Street Fighter’.

  38. Of course, I say that having kinda liked ‘Street Fighter’ in a cartoony sort of way, but Desperado is way better.

  39. Yeah, Rodriguez even mentions Julia in the audio commentaries. But say what you want about STREET FIGHTER as a last movie of a great actor, at least his performance kept his dignity intact.

  40. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this one, but I remember thinking that when the actor from El Mariachi shows up, it was supposed to indicate that he was the same character as in the first film and that Antonio Banderas was a different dude. But it appears that I may have gotten that all wrong. I really need to revisit this film now. I don’t think I’ve seen it since it came out on video, probably in 96 or 97. And my memory of El Mariachi is even worse.

    I even remember enjoying Once Upon a Time in Mexico, although it started Rodriguez’s penchant for stuffing way too many underdeveloped subplots in his movies. For me, Sin City is still my favorite Rodriguez joint. He’s relying a lot on CGI, but he’s doing something with it you just couldn’t accomplish with practical effects. It’s not like the Machete films where CGI is a cheap, tacky shortcut.

  41. CJ – Absolutely Julia’s performance kept his dignity. He was one of those actors in the same class as Christopher Walken or Tim Curry who would always give a role everything he had and make it entertaining.

    This is just one of those “almost-happened” casting choices that are fun to think about in hindsight (like Bob Hoskins as Al Capone in ‘The Untouchables’, Harrison Ford as Sam Bowden in ‘Cape Fear’ or Jet Li as Seraph in ‘The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions).

  42. RBatty – Yeah, it’s hard to support that reading because they reshot the end of MARIACHI with the original love, Domino, dying in Banderas’s arms instead of Gallardo’s. But nothing is explained about Campa and Quino, so you can come up with your own interpretation.

  43. Well, here I am feeling mighty ashamed because I’ve never seen of the MARIACHI trilogy movies, I’m sorry everyone.

    Oh yes, I’ve heard of them (especially the first), but the only RR movies I’ve seen are FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, SIN CITY, PLANET TERROR and MACHETE and it was MACHETE that kinda deflated my interest in him and I just have yet to get around to checking out his origins.

    But I love FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, so I definitely need to check out more movies from him from around that time.

  44. Maybe Banderas’s character just has a really, really similar history as Gallardo’s. Anyway, this review has convinced me that I really need to revisit these movies.

  45. The Original Paul

    August 27th, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Griff – I know this is probably the most predictable recommendation that’s ever been made on this site, given that it’s coming from the #1 bodyshock horror fan on the site; but if you have the opportunity to do so, check out THE FACULTY. It’s a high-school alien invasion horror movie with a ridiculously good cast and fantastic script; and when you watch the movie, you understand why so much talent was willing to take a paycheque for it. It’s got Jordana Brewster, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Piper Laurie, Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Salma Hayek, Laura Harris… I mean, if the concept of a teen horror movie does not immediately put you off, you should see THE FACULTY, and you’ll probably have a blast with it.

    I know a lot of people would recommend DESPERADO (myself included). But if I had to name the movie that I thought was both the best and most entertaining of Rodriguez’ output, THE FACULTY would be it.

  46. I agree on THE FACULTY. Ignore the fact that it’s 90’s teen horror and just a work-for-hire job by Rodriguez. It’s definitely one of his best works. (But from EL MARIACHI to SPY KIDS, everything he made was gold. It was his golden era.)

  47. Plus, you get Jon Stewart as a wacky high school science teacher who goes all evil-alien on them. There’s a nice little time capsule for you.

  48. Still, saying THE FACULTY is your favorite Rodriguez joint is basically saying you don’t like Rodriguez very much. With the exception of the casting of Salma Hayek, there’s really nothing of the man in the movie at all. It could have been directed by anybody.

  49. I don’t agree with that. It IS his most polished movie, but there is a lot of him in it, right down to certain editing choices. Actually it feels more like a Rodriguez movie than SIN CITY or PLANET TERROR.

  50. I’d be interested to see the places where you notice his style poking through. I don’t see his framing, his camera moves, his editing, his pacing, his humor, his music, really any of the things that, for better or worse, make a Rodriguez joint a Rodriguez joint, even when it’s filtered through another sensibility, like the meta-schlock of PT or the cartoon noir of SC. To me, it feels like a movie that got taken away from him in post, even though I know he went in trying to make it as anonymous as possible to show the studios he knew how to play by the rules. I actually like the movie a lot for what it is but it’s never seemed like anything but yeomen’s work to me.

  51. Wow, I guess I’m gonna have to rewatch THE FACULTY then.

  52. There’s a bit of Rodriguez’s style poking through in the post-title schoolyard sequence, mainly in the scoring and the use of freeze-frames (which I seem to remember in Desperado, but I may be wrong), and in other isolated bits here and there. It’s a well-directed movie, but I agree it isn’t too distinctly a Robert Rodriguez film. What’s strange to me is that he never talks about The Faculty, and the home video releases have zero extras beyond the trailer. It’s better a lot of his other movies, though. I’ve also heard that there was initially a much longer cut.

  53. I don´t remember THE FACULTY as a Rodriguezian at all. At the time I hade high hopes for it after the double punch that was DESPERADO and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. I´m sure it´s a good movie. But not of that calibre that I can remember.

  54. The Original Paul

    August 28th, 2015 at 1:23 am

    Vern and Majestyk, bear in mind that I’m the bodyshock horror nerd here. And THE FACULTY is an excellent bit of bodyshock horror. I think it’s a straight-up really good film on its own merits as well, but disregarding that, I’m going to watch anything of that particular genre because it’s the one that most appeals to me.

    As to whether it’s “Rodriguezian”… I think you have to be careful when talking about Rodriguez’ “style”. It’s very convenient to think of DESPERADO as the “passion project” and the likes of MACHETE as populist studio-produced rubbish that’s not really representative of his talents. And I’ve got no doubt that Rodriguez wanted to do DESPERADO, which is a film I very much like. Nonetheless, I think you can make a fairly convincing argument that the opposite is the case – DESPERADO is the studio-produced big-budget sequel to the cult hit indie film, whereas MACHETE and PLANET TERROR are examples of what Rodriguez can do when he has free rein – which isn’t one that I’d necessarily agree with (frankly I don’t think it’s that “black and white” either way). I’m just saying that the case can be made that Rodriguez is at his best when he doesn’t have free rein.

    (And for the record, the best thing I could say about either MACHETE or PLANET TERROR is that they’re not bad. PLANET TERROR is probably the better movie of the two, technically speaking, but I didn’t think there was anything particularly interesting or original in it and I couldn’t ever be bothered to revisit it; in comparison I’ve watched DEATH PROOF, which was released with it, several times already. MACHETE was just disappointing – again, not bad, but I think it failed both as an action movie and as an example of narrative storytelling.)

  55. Actually, I have seen THE FACULTY but I forgot he directed that.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a great movie, but it’s fun and definitely a cut above your usual late 90’s teen horror movie.

  56. The Original Paul

    August 28th, 2015 at 2:27 am

    Griff – yep, that sounds about right.

  57. Well, it´s a lot better than I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

  58. The Original Paul

    August 28th, 2015 at 3:49 am

    Shoot – high praise indeed!

  59. It’s probably an overreach to suggest that Rodriguez was already starting to go wrong in just his second feature. I do think, however, that for all its eager style and filmmaking brio (it positively oozes “you’re going to let me have how much money?” in its conception of the action sequences), those things different between Desperado and El Mariachi, to which it is sequel and remake, are exactly the things that tend be most problematic with the director’s films. The desire to make a slick, cool impact in the moment is so intense that he doesn’t do much, if any, work to stitch those moments into a greater whole with its own building momentum and sense of purpose; it’s really not much more than a clip reel with an excessively great soundtrack. That said, some of those clips are mighty cool, and for every moment that’s patently an unnecessary indulgence, there’s a better one that’s B-movie cartoon zaniness at its finest. That climactic shootout centered on guns built into guitar cases covers a lot of sins…

  60. And yes, I’m also of the opinion that El Mirachi is still the best movie Rodriguez has ever done, and at this point, will ever do. Sometimes less is truly more.

  61. Having seen this at the age of 9, I remember thinking it was an awesome film. I still enjoy it now, by the way, and I don’t know if my enjoyment of this film could change. One thing that I will say is that I remember watching this as a child with cousins and my sister. We got to the sex scene and my cousins were messing with the VCR remote and putting the video in slow motion and my mom walked in on us, and she was all, “No wonder you were quiet!” It was a little embarrassing but funny.

    This is one of those movies that I still could enjoy, but I am curious about the actual climax sequence now. I had a feeling that there may have been more to that final standoff between El Mariachi and Bucho, especially with the other henchmen pulling out their guns to start shooting. I might have to listen to the commentary now.

    To this day, I still don’t understand the credits sequence. With the Mariachi somehow having that dream where after the performance, it goes into a dead silence with Moco entering the picture and having that flashback from the first film. Now I could see that it was to link the two films together, but what exactly was the point of it from a narrative standpoint? He went after Bucho. Was Bucho a business partner to Moco? Was he a superior? That was one thing that I still don’t understand.

  62. I always read Desperado (which I prefer to El Mariachi) as almost like a mythical retelling. Like all that shit in El Mariachi happened thirty years ago, and Desperao is the end of that story being told by someone else. Maybe a goon who didn’t take a bullet in the first film. He’s gone straight and schooling his son on why crime his bad – all of the characters are sexier, the action deadlier – as memory paints it. El Mariachi was the truth. Desperado was the legend.

  63. Vern, quick question (love all your reviews BTW)
    I liked this movie, but didn’t you feel at least a little let down on the first viewing when “Opponent” was set up to have some kind of fight scene and they didn’t deliver? Didn’t you say in your Snakes on a Plane and The Mechanic (2011) reviews that when a filmmaker sets up expectations like that it’s unfair to the audience not to deliver (paraphrased)?
    To be fair though, I have more faith that this was an intentional choice on Rodriguez’s part, whereas the people behind Snakes on a Plane probably didn’t know how to properly utilize the kickboxing character they pointlessly introduced.

  64. Welp, guess it’s time to re-watch DESPERADO. Wow, has it actually been 20+ years? Maybe. I don’t even know. What I DO know is that this and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN have awesome soundtracks. And I don’t just mean the music, I mean the albums themselves. With quotes from the films in-between the songs and stuff. I used to love that stuff, that’s how I used to make my mixtapes back in the day. So, to sum up: Why don’t they make soundtrack albums like that anymore, and why doesn’t Rodriquez put awesome music in his films anymore?

  65. In answer to the second question, I’m not sure what you mean. Rodriguez has only done one movie in the past five years, and that was work-for-hire, so he would have little input into the soundtrack (not that his usual chicano garage rock would have made sense in ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL anyway—though it might have given it a little personality). The ones he made before that were sequels that stuck his usual schtick. You might not like his more recent output as much but you can’t claim he switched up his style. It’s the exact same thing he’s been doing since the beginning.

    As to the first question, it’s because nobody—and I mean nobody—buys albums anymore. Tarantino still gets to put out full soundtrack LPs with all the trimmings but, like most things Tarantino does, it’s a special indulgence that the suits allow him that they’ll never grant anybody else. Personally, I’m cool with dialogue and skits in between songs as long as they interfere with the songs themselves. I recall the OUT OF SIGHT and HOT FUZZ soundtracks being particularly egregious in that regard. If I want to hear the songs with dialogue over them, I’ll just watch the movie, thanks.

  66. *as long as they DON’T interfere with the songs

  67. I should do a rewatch. I remember at some point I realized that, especially near the end of the film, they would show Banderas or the other Mariachi’s shoot and then it would cut to a guy falling. I wonder if there is like a much more violent verison of this moie on the cutting room floor somewhere.

  68. My first question was more or less rhetorical. I can’t remember the last time I bought a cd, so I get it. If I wanted to I’m sure I could make some sort of youtube equivalent of those kind of soundtracks, but why bother.

    But what I was saying is that DESPERADO and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN introduced my 15-16 year old self to all kinds of new music (The Blasters, Tito & Tarantula, a GOOD Dire Straits song) and contributed to my burgeoning love of surf rock but I can’t think of a Rodriguez movie from the last twenty-five years that has anything but a regular old score throughout. It was part of the appeal of a Rodriguez movie for me and it’s been missing since, uh…THE FACULTY?

    But I haven’t seen one of his since SIN CITY 2 (and I skipped MACHETE KILLS, except some at a bar with no sound) so maybe the shine’s just worn off.

  69. And I forgot that this movie is why I’ve always wanted Steve Buscemi to play me in a movie. He’s a friggin’ gas, especially in that opening scene. I watched it twice today!

  70. Oh, I get what you mean now. That’s true. Rodriguez doesn’t do near as many needle drops as he used to. I think that’s just his cheapness shining through, though. The cost of music clearance has gone through the roof since the DESPERADO days, and I doubt the notoriously frugal Rodriguez would think it’s worth spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on a few seconds of music when he could just go into his basement and whip up an original track for free in a few hours. Which is understandable, but it does add to the feeling that his style has become more of a compendium of cost-cutting measures than an actual aesthetic.

  71. I think we talk here every one or two years for a bit about soundtrack albums and how much some of us miss them. That particular compilation subgenre was my shit! The last one (in terms of release) that I bought was for T2 TRAINSPOTTING (Hi Majestyk, I’m Nobody!), so these things still exist, although of course not in the amount as they did back in the 90s and early 00s.

    The DESPERADO one is indeed pretty cool. I had an illegal copy of the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN once and remember it being good too.

  72. Mr. M- I too was immediately reminded of the OUT OF SIGHT soundtrack, which I think I still have in one of those huge cd holder book things somewhere under my TV. It felt like the movie’s whole damn audio track was on that thing.

  73. I definitely miss the heyday of the compilation soundtrack. Found a lot of great songs and artists that way. I still get all of Tarantino’s soundtracks on general principle, even though the ratio of killer to filler isn’t what it once was. His soundtracks are still great but they took a nosedive in replayability when he discovered he could just use old score snippets. I love Morricone as much as the next guy who likes Morricone a lot but I don’t necessarily want to listen to Morricone in between a bunch of pop and rock songs, you know? Totally different vibes. You could listen to DOGS or PULP or JACKIE BROWN all the way through but from KILL BILL on there’s likely to be a lot more skippage.

  74. I used to buy soundtracks all the time, but that really tapered off after I went to college (and, not coincidentally, encountered fast P2P downloads for the first time). I remember the LOST IN SPACE soundtrack being much more satisfying to young-me than the actual movie.

    That said, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased my all-time favorite soundtrack/score, though I stream it all the damn time- Basil Poledouris’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN score, which is just so good. You couldn’t have a movie with so little dialogue overall without a banger of a score to accompany all that silence, and ol’ Basil really knocks it out of the park, into the parking lot, and through your step-dad’s Pontiac windshield.

  75. I consider the first KILL BILL Tarantino’s greatest album. And yeah, the LOST IN SPACE soundtrack is a good one too. Many bad movies from that era had actually really good albums. (See also: SPAWN or the first TOMB RAIDER movie)

  76. I’m right there with you Mr. M. The DOGS and PULP soundtracks changed the trajectory of my musical taste (I would never have picked ‘Fool for Love’ off a jukebox, but damn I love that song), but after KILL BILL I couldn’t really be bothered.

    And you’re right about Rodriguez scoring his own movies. Hell, the best part of PLANET TERROR was the opening credits, and half that was the banging score. I think we know what the other half was. But you’re prolly correct in his frugal nature dictating the lack of awesome oldies in his movies.

  77. The KILL BILL soundtrack is fucking phenomenal. I even made myself an extended version with all the bits in the movie that didn’t end up on the albums, a practice I have continued for every Tarantino movie since. (I even have one for HATEFUL EIGHT full of songs he ALMOST used) I’m just saying you can’t really put it on and leave it on at a party or on a road trip the way you can DOGS or PULP. It’s more score than soundtrack.

  78. But I bet it’s GREAT for writing.

  79. I love the soundtrack portions the best. RZA’s stuff is excellent, Battle for Honor and Humanity theme is amazing, got some of the best Ennio tracks. My favorite piece of music in those though is the simplest, called Black Mamba which basically closes out the credits. It’s basically a super simple drunk track and some synth noises that just kind of jam for two minutes. I LOVE that song.

  80. I really liked this movie back then as a teenager, but I haven’t watched in ages. Guess it’s time, as a way to wish Banderas a happy recovery.

    Somehow, even though I’m not Mexican myself, I always felt some kind of connection with the movie’s “Mexican Superhero” vibe.

    I think my man Joaquim de Almeida has never actually played a Portuguese character outside of Portuguese movies. I know he played a Russian once, French, like that.

  81. For my birthday I got a blu-ray copy of Desperado to upgrade my decade+ old DVD. Just watched it for the first time in a few years, and goddammit I still love this movie. There are entire scenes that leave me grinning like an idiot. I would have been about 10 years old when this came out on VHS and I first saw it and it had a huge impact on me. I was already a budding genre nerd/snob, and the action in Desperado was so creative and energetic that it made most of the other American action movies I saw look stiff and outdated. I immediately became dismissive of “action” scenes that mostly consisted of heroes standing in place mowing goons down while their Stormtrooper aim leaves him untouched. I think I had seen some Eastern martial arts flicks by that point, but this was probably my first exposure to Hong Kong-style acrobatic gunplay and I was hooked. I knew John Woo by reputation, but had no way to see any of seeing his work until Face/Off hit theaters in ’97 and immediately became one of my favorite movies.

    The big bar shoot out is still one of my favorite action sequences of all time. The music, the editing, Banderas being super bad-ass but still occasionally fumbling or cursing to himself as the chaos gets out of hand. The rooftop jump later is also one of my favorite moments, and re-watching I don’t think there are any wires or trickery, it looks like Banderas just got launched onto that rooftop. Finding out they shot the bar sequence is 3.5 days is bonkers. Even crazier is the fact that not only did this movie look this good for $7 million, but a chunk of that money went to an action sequence we never even see, so what we DO see was made for LESS than $7 million. As a kid I just assumed they ran out of money, but I never felt let down because it already had so much amazing action in it. I really wish we could see that footage, even if it was transferred from a shitty VHS in Rodriguez’s closet or something.

    I fell in love with Salma Hayek the second she walked on screen, and somehow she has only gotten hotter in the subsequent 28(!) years. She might be my only lifelong crush. I just wish she got better roles, instead of The Hitman’s Wife’s Brother’s Bodyguard or whatever. Everly was like a C+ action movie, but having Salma front and center and kicking ass still made it a very enjoyable watch for me. Other than that, looking at the last decade or so her only other flick I watched/enjoyed was Savages, and even that was a great role for her in a pretty uneven movie.

    Rodriguez’s career arc is even more disappointing. I thought Machete was fun, but disposable and messy. As a one off, it seemed like a fine goof. But then that became his default filmmaking style and it got worse. Machete Kills was much bigger mess, and way less fun. Sin City 2 sucked ass (other than Eva Green of course), and despite having a bigger budget, I thought it looked significantly WORSE than the first one, which seems indicative that Rodriguez is using his tech and shortcuts to be lazier. It didn’t help that it had new material from past his prime Frank Miller either, the new story with Nancy was trash. I am generally not interested in his kids’ stuff (but based on trailers those also seem to be getting worse), and I have not watched Hypnotic but have not heard good things. I did finally watch Alita: Battle Angel a few days ago and actually really enjoyed it. It feels like the plot and character beats are missing a few lines or even scenes, but I liked the cast, world, cyborg designs, and action. Even that was kind of a bummer though, because for Rodriguez to make something I enjoyed he had to work for a big studio on another producer’s passion project (Cameron) based on an existing property that already had lots of visual flair he could pull from, and very few moments felt like something only he would come up with. I don’t know if he has it in him to produce another awesome, original work. From Desperado to Planet terror he was one of my favorite directors and I eagerly awaited each new movie. Now I barely even feel inclined to look at a trailer for one of his movies.

    One last thing I thought of on this viewing: I am sure he HAS played good/neutral roles, but I have never seen Joaquim de Almeida play anything but a bad guy. But he’s great at it!

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