xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
After Robert Rodriguez made his $7,000 first film "El Mariachi" (1992) and his $3 million "Desperado" (1995), Quentin Tarantino told him they were the Mexican equivalent of Sergio Leone's first two spaghetti Westerns. After the low-budget ''A Fistful of Dollars'' and ''For a Few Dollars More,'' Leone moved up to bigger budgets for ''The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'' and ''Once Upon a Time in the West'' -- and therefore, Tarantino told his friend, Rodriguez should now make ''Once Upon a Time in Mexico.'' And so he has, for $30 million -- still a relatively modest budget, as action movies go.
Like Leone's movie, the Rodriguez epic is more interested in the moment, in great shots, in surprises and ironic reversals and closeups of sweaty faces, than in a coherent story. Both movies feed on the music of heroism and lament. Both paint their stories in bold, bright colors. Both go for sensational kills; if Clint Eastwood kills three men with one bullet, Salma Hayek kills four men with four knives, all thrown at once. In my review of "Desperado," I praised Rodriguez for his technical skill and creative energy, but said he hadn't learned to structure a story so we cared about what happened.
That's still true in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," but you know what? I didn't mind. I understood the general outlines of the story, I liked the bold strokes he uses to create the characters, and I was amused by the camera work, which includes a lot of shots that are about themselves.
The actors in a movie like this have to arrive on the screen self-contained; there are flashbacks to their earlier lives, but they explain what happened to them, not who they are. With Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Johnny Depp as his leads, and a supporting cast including Ruben Blades, Eva Mendes, Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke, Rodriguez has great faces, bodies, eyes, hair, sneers, snarls and personalities to work with. Banderas is as impassive as Eastwood, Hayek steams with passion, and Johnny Depp steams with something -- maybe fermenting memories of "Pirates of the Caribbean." The plot is at least technically a sequel to the first two movies, once again with El Mariachi as a troubadour with a sideline in killing (early in the movie, he cocks his guitar). I didn't remember the details of the first two films well enough to follow this continuation in detail, but so what? Essentially, El Mariachi (Banderas) is in self-imposed exile after the death of his wife Carolina (Hayek) and their daughter.