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Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

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BANDERAS
Image credit: Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Rico Torres
BANDERAS

Details Release Date: Sep 12, 2003; Rated: R; Length: 97 Minutes; Genres: Action/Adventure, Mystery and Thriller; With: Antonio Banderas, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek and Eva Mendes; Distributor: Columbia Pictures

It’s hard to begrudge Robert Rodriguez’s desire to crank out a trilogy of family flicks for his sons to enjoy. But now that the ''Spy Kids'' franchise has run its cuddly course, we’re pleased to see the director back where he belongs: blowing stuff up for the grown-ups.

Ostensibly a sequel to 1995’s cult bloodbath ''Desperado'' (which was itself a sequel to 1993’s equally culty ''El Mariachi''), ''Once Upon a Time in Mexico'' owes its existence to the biggest cult drooler of all, Quentin Tarantino. “When we were doing 'From Dusk Till Dawn' back in ’95, Quentin suggested I do a third 'El Mariachi'/'Desperado' movie and it could be like my 'Fistful of Dollars' trilogy,” says Rodriguez, referring to Sergio Leone’s ’60s troika of spaghetti Westerns: ''A Fistful of Dollars,'' ''For a Few Dollars More,'' and ''The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.''

Rodriguez sparked to the idea, but it wasn't until years later when he was finishing ''Spy Kids'' that he turned to Antonio Banderas -- the Eastwood to his Leone -- and asked what he thought about picking up his explosives-packed guitar case again. Recalls Banderas, “I asked Robert if he had a script and he said, ‘Give me three weeks, I’ll come up with one!’” Rodriguez needed only one.

The south-of-the-border saga kicks off when a psychotic CIA agent (Johnny Depp) hires Banderas’ shadowy Mariachi to whack a ruthless cartel lord during Mexico’s Day of the Dead. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. From there, Rodriguez jackknifes into more double and triple crosses than a bag full of pretzels. And even Banderas admits, “I’m in the movie and I don’t even know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy.”

The Killer Moment Depp’s rogue CIA agent, after having his eyes gouged out, seeks payback in a blind pistol fight.

Originally posted Aug 11, 2003 Published in issue #724-725 Aug 22, 2003 Order article reprints