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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 25, 1995


Robert Rodriquez
Antonio Banderas;
Cheech Marin;
Quentin Tarantino;
Setve Buscemi;
Joaquim de Almeida
violence, profanity, sex and nudity

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Sultry Antonio Banderas, as snug in his toreador pants as beans in a burrito, makes his action debut in "Desperado," a costlier, bloodier follow-up to Robert Rodriguez's low-budget "El Mariachi." Other than Banderas—who replaces Rodriguez's business partner in the leading role—bigger bucks have bought little of real worth to this tale of a Mexican balladeer turned soulful crime fighter.

More bullets, extra buckaroos, bloodier effects and a Los Lobos soundtrack can't obscure the fact that the 1992 original, a Spanish-language spoof of Sergio Leone westerns, was wittier, fresher and fleeter. Most sequels tend to be a bit stale, but that shortcoming is magnified in the case of "Desperado," which isn't really a new chapter but a refried variation of "El Mariachi." Again the story is set in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Acuna, where El Mariachi, the gentle troubadour, lost his first love and the use of his right hand in a gunfight with a local drug kingpin. And ever since, he's been a bloodthirsty hombre.

The mariachi still dreams about the incident—actually footage from the first movie—which adds to the confusion because the villain now has a new name, Bucho, and is played by a different actor (Joaquim de Almeida). It takes a heap of killing to get to Bucho, but the mariachi blows an army of goons away in a blizzard of guts.

All blood and thunder, "Desperado" is merely a violent cartoon that not only parodies the conventions of spaghetti westerns but ladles on the red sauce, too, a la Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino's influence is seen as well as felt when he turns up in a pointless, unfunny, protracted cameo. Steve Buscemi, who starred in Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," adds still more ain't-we-hip cachet as the hero's advance man.

Buscemi, who plays a character named Buscemi, introduces El Mariachi to neophytes in a spoofy prologue and at the same time warns the bad guys that the hero is headed their way and he's madder than a scorpion with a cast on his stinger. Cheech Marin also has a cameo as a surly barkeep, a witness to El Mariachi's ruthlessness and near-invincibility. And Salma Hayek dresses the place up considerably as a sizzling senorita with the hero's best interests at heart.

For all El Mariachi's blood lust, Banderas manages to turn him into a likable character with humor, a conscience and plenty of self-deprecating insouciance. And Rodriguez, who directed, wrote, edited, produced and in general did everything but run the projector, apparently had the good sense to let the actor do it his own way. The character somehow makes sense even when the story doesn't.

"Desperado" also has some entertaining twists, some sexy goings-on, but on the whole, watching the film is about as much fun as sitting on a cactus.

Desperado is rated R for violence, profanity, sex and nudity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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