Mariachi, El [1992]

Before Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Mexicans in North American action films were typically maids, drug dealers, or prison inmates. Even if the Cisco Kid was a friend of yours, you handled a dust cloth or a Mac-10 if you lasted in Hollywood longer than a New York minuto. But when El Mariachi crossed the border in 1992, things changed. Granted, it still involved a drug lord in a shoot-em-up, bang-bang, but this time the good guy was a Mexican. Austin-based Rodriguez made El Mariachi for a fistful of pesos and a little help from his friends. He wrote, directed, coproduced, edited, and operated the camera. Plus, he assembled a cast that had never acted before to work por nada. All for a paltry $7,000, a milagro without a beanfield war. Desperado continues the outrageous action adventure. Working with a much bigger budget, Rodriguez returns the nameless mariachi to nonstop action. Again thrust into a world he never made, the hero takes his guitar-case arsenal deep into the criminal labyrinth of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), el gran chingon of the Mexican drug lords. With an amigo (Steve Buscemi) and a beautiful bookstore owner (Salma Hayek), el mariachi confronts an outrageous cast along the way, including a bartender (Cheech Marin), a drug deal pick-up guy (Quentin Tarantino), and the original mariachi (coproducer Carlos Gallardo) as a new-found compa'. Antonio Banderas has the lead this time, and if he's not quite up to the challenge, it's probably because he's Spanish, not Mexican, a distinction not lost by anyone raised on what the popular media now calls "ethnic food." That said, Desperado is not to be missed. Using intelligence, romance, and humor--as well as plenty of explosive, surreal violence--Rodriguez again showcases the timeless struggle between the forces of darkness and light. And, in the process, he's recasting the mold for the contemporary action hero--kids now argue about who gets to play the Mexican. --Stephan Magcosta

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