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DESPERADO. Directed, written and produced by Robert Rodriguez for Columbia Pictures. Starring Antonio Banderas, Selma Hayek and Joaquim de Almeida. Rated R.


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Desperado is a feast for the eyes and ears, if not the mind. I've seen better story and character development in music videos, which this movie closely resembles. But ZOWIE! what a video experience it is!

Unfortunately, I couldn't fully experience every minute. Some of the scenes are so gory that even given the cartoonish nature of the violence, I just had to look away. But while I was watching, I was very impressed.

Impressed with Banderas, naturally, who has always been a compelling screen presence, but who really outdoes himself here. I'm wondering if theaters will have a problem with melting screens after a few showings of Desperado. Not to mention hyperventilating females in the audience.

But also impressed with the directorial and cinematographic style of Rodriguez. Does this guy ever know how to stage a gunfight! Also romantic encounters and just plain strolls down the street. But maybe he should let someone else do the script.

The story, such as it is, in Desperado, is both a remake and a sequel (it's possible with a plot this simple-minded) of Rodriguez' widely praised El Mariachi. Banderas is a former mariachi whose guitar case is now bristling with weapons as he searches for Bucho, (de Almeida) the man responsible for his girlfriend's murder. Practically everyone he comes into contact with works for Bucho, so this Man with No Name feels justified in blowing them all to kingdom come—but with style.

He eventually joins forces with Carolina, (Hayek). She owns a bookstore that no one ever visits, so it's perfect for hiding out and stitching up gunshot wounds (she has plenty of first-aid books to show her how to do it, too). Besides making anybody's top ten most gorgeous couples list, they manage to take care of all the bad guys in sight, at least for now.

You can't call Desperado a horse opera, even though it looks like a western, because it's set in the present and doesn't have any horses. It does have plenty of guns—maybe a gun opera? Opera is the important term, though, because that's what a two-hour music video would be, right? The action (and there's a lot of it) is choreographed with the precision of ballet and the soundtrack (by Los Lobos, who did such a good job with La Bamba) is just terrific. Music, "dancing," and a simple story told in over-the-top, ridiculous, but extremely well-executed histrionics—sounds like opera to me.

September 20, 1995

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