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Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez Returns with <i>El Mariachi/Desperado</i> Sequel - <i>Once Upon A Time In Mexico</i> - 2003-09-13

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez brings back the guitar-strumming gunfighter from his first film for a final chapter in the action- and humor-packed saga of El Mariachi. Alan Silverman has a look at the new film Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Writer-director Robert Rodriguez first introduced the character in his acclaimed but dramatically low-budget first film, El Mariachi in 1992. He returned in the 1995 follow-up Desperado and now, in Once Upon A Time In Mexico, the legend has grown.

The Sergio Leone "spaghetti Westerns" of the 1960s are clearly the stylistic inspiration, but the story and humor are all from Rodriguez who not only writes and directs, he is also cinematographer, edits the film and composes the musical score. In typical Rodriguez style, the opening credits read "shot, chopped and scored" by Robert Rodriguez.

"It sounded too formal the other way," explains the filmmaker. "This movie was the third Mariachi, which was extremely informal. In fact, there was so little money on that I didn't have a crew at all. It was really a homemade movie. This being part three I didn't want to stray too far from that, so I thought if we had less time and less money it would bring out the creativity. The cast and everybody just loved it, but when it came time to do the credits it felt a little too formal. I thought 'I didn't really photograph the movie, I sort of just shot it.' That was the sense of humor of the movie and the freedom of the movie. I think it signals the audience that they're in for a good time."

Rodriguez says his goal was to recapture the fun of El Mariachi, which he made for only $7,000, most of it charged to his credit cards.

"I found as I started doing other movies, they weren't as much fun as El mariachi was, so I wanted to go back and recapture that feeling of shooting by the seat of your pants and just really going very quickly so that you're just on a creative high the whole time trying to get the movie done," he recalls. "[One way was] really giving ourselves limitations of budget. We could have asked for three times the budged from the studio with that cast, but we wanted to do if for less because less is more; it just makes everyone work together that much closer and through the struggle, creativity comes in. Whenever I ask other directors what their favorite movie-making experience was they always say their first movie because they didn't have enough time or money, everyone had to do multiple jobs and pull together and they wish they could go back to that, but they're kind of stuck in the standard system. So I figure make every movie as if it's the first one."

Set in contemporary Mexico, the film features Johnny Depp as a quirky, shadowy espionage agent who takes a few too many matters into his own hands. "The idea of CIA guy is interesting. He's stationed somewhere and maybe it's somewhere he doesn't want to be: a guy who has no regard for human life. It's kind of like play money to him," says the actor.

Antonio Banderas returns as the Mariachi with no name, the character he first played almost a decade ago in Desperado. "The worst part is probably how physically demanding it is and I have to recognize that from 1994 to today you get older. The bones start hurting a little bit more when you have to jump out of a window or things like that," he says.

True to the genre, bullets fly and the body count is high. The film does have an "R" from the Motion Picture Association of America rating board meaning that those under age 17 should not be admitted without a parent. However, Banderas believes the over-the-top style of Once Upon A Time In Mexico tells audiences this is not supposed to be realistic.

"I think the violence in the movie is choreographic. It's surrounded by a lot of sense of humor," stresses Antonio Banderas. "It's so unreal that I don't think people can actually believe that after you shoot somebody they fly 20 meters back. It's just all about slow motion. It's about style."

Once Upon A Time In Mexico also features Eva Mendes, Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke; and, returning from Desperado, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin.