|Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Mickey Rourke, Ruben Blades
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez has released a pair of movies in the past two months that he's written, shot, chopped and directed all by himself, making him the most talented one-man show in the industry today. With "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," Rodriguez wraps up his increasingly successful trilogy of the crazy gun-fighting mariachi brought to life in 1992's "El Mariachi" and the follow-up sequel "Desperado," with a blowout cast and a big bang plot.
Antonio Banderas returns as El Mariachi, the infamous mariachi hit man who has recently retired after the murder of his wife (Salma Hayek, shown only in flashbacks). But a crooked CIA agent named Sands (Johnny Depp) entices the killer back to work after he makes a deal involving the protection of the Mexican president that would secure a huge bankroll for Sands while handing El Mariachi the revenge he's been seeking since his wife's death. While the job seems easy enough, a handful of variables is thrown into the game including a drug cartel boss (Willem Dafoe), his American right-hand man (Mickey Rourke) and an ex-FBI agent (Ruben Blades) eager to get his hands wet in the bloody feud.
Rodriguez's film is pure magic, blending action and comedy with one of the best ensemble casts in recent years. Banderas' revival of the title character is entertaining at least, but it's not as enthusiastic as his appearance in the prior film. Depp shines once again in his second tour-de-force of the year ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), breathing comedic life into the shallow CIA agent and proving to the Academy bigwigs that he deserves serious award consideration. Some may find "Once Upon a Time" a little cartoonish and/or gory at times, but with Rodriguez behind the scenes, it's all fun and games wrapped up in a tight, entertaining, and very worthwhile 100 minutes.