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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 25, 1995


Robert Rodriguez
Antonio Banderas;
Cheech Marin;
Quentin Tarantino;
Setve Buscemi;
Joaquim de Almeida
sex scenes, nudity and extensive but cartoonish violence

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In "Desperado," Antonio Banderas, a guitar-strumming, gun-toting hero known only as "the mariachi," lies peacefully in bed after making love with bookstore owner Salma Hayek. But as his new lover sings him a lispy Spanish samba, Banderas notices the silhouette of a gunman against the veiled window.

As the assailant creeps toward the front door, Banderas calmly tracks him with a loaded gun. Hayek, eyes closed in romantic ecstasy, continues singing, completely unaware of the situation. When Banderas spots another bad guy approaching from the other side, he pulls out a second gun. As the gunmen converge on the door, located behind Hayek, Banderas finds himself pointing both weapons directly at his lover's head.

This is just one of many tongue-in-cheek suspense scenes in writer/director Robert Rodriguez's vital quasi-remake of his 1992 cult classic "El Mariachi." In the latest movie, which also stars Steve Buscemi, Joaquim de Almeida and Quentin Tarantino, Banderas arrives in a Mexican border town to avenge the death of a previous lover.

The blood trail leads to de Almeida, a drug lord whose henchmen run the place. Aided by Hayek (whom de Almeida keeps smitten tabs on) and amusingly rat-like best friend Buscemi, Banderas finds himself in an unending series of hyperbolic gun battles on rooftops and in seedy bars, with the kind of stylized, in-your-face confrontations found in spaghetti westerns.

"El Mariachi," which Rodriguez shot in 16mm for $7,000, had a different set of actors and a slightly different story line. Part of the enjoyment was seeing how well Rodriguez, a talented neophyte, could use his imagination with precious few resources.

When Columbia Pictures (which released "El Mariachi") offered to pay for an English language remake, writer/director Rodriguez jumped at the chance. Although the cast was replaced—Banderas taking over for "Mariachi" lead Carlos Gallardo—the commercial transition has been remarkably successful. This is primarily thanks to Rodriguez, who not only retains the original movie's kinetic flair, but takes it further.

Rodriguez relieves the unremitting, comic-book killings (which include, in one hysterical scene, bazookas) with unforgettably funny villains and varmints, including Cheech Marin as a menacing but gullible bartender; Tarantino, as an excitable drug customer who gets unwillingly caught in a bar massacre (it's as if he's being punished for his own gory movies); and Buscemi, who nerdily holds his own in a bar full of scowling, armed Mexicans.

Rodriguez also puts great retorts into the mouths of his bad guys, such as the psychotic de Almeida. Frustrated that his men have been unable to locate the mariachi in this tiny town, the drug lord gives the following advice to his hired help: "You drive around town, you see someone you don't know, you shoot them. How hard is that?" He proceeds to demonstrate by firing at his own followers, causing a collection of big, mean scoundrels to scurry for cover like terrified kids.

In this movie, words and actions speak equally loudly.

DESPERADO (R) — Contains sex scenes, nudity and extensive but cartoonish violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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