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Robert Rodriguez
Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi
Writing Credits:
Robert Rodriguez

He came back to settle the score.

Antonio Banderas, Joaquim De Almeida, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin and Quentin Tarantino star in this stylish shoot-'em-up described as a south-of-the-border Pulp Fiction.

Director Robert Rodriguez follows up his legendary debut film, El Mariachi, with this sexy sequel about a mysterious guitar player (Banderas) search for vengeance against the men who murdered his girlfriend.

Box Office:
Budget $7.000 million.
Domestic Gross
$25.625 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
Portuguese Dolby Surround

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 8/26/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Rodriguez
• “10 More Minutes with Robert Rodriguez: Anatomy of a Shootout” Featurette
• Sneak Peek at Once Upon a Time In Mexico
• Trailers
• Filmographies

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Desperado: Special Edition (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2003)

While El Mariachi didn’t make director Robert Rodriguez a household name, it did act as a $7000 calling card. The film enabled him to make bigger projects, so what did he choose? Desperado, an odd form of sequel to El Mariachi.

(Note that to cover this flick’s plot, I’ll inevitably provide some spoilers about El Mariachi. If you don’t want to know these, just skip to the first word I present in bold type; that’s where I’ll open my impressions of the film without much discussion of story.)

At the film’s start, a dude named Buscemi (Steve Buscemi) enters a Mexican bar and tells the patrons a vivid tale of El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas). He makes the latter out to be a vengeful force of mythic proportions, mostly to try to sweat some information out of them. Mariachi seeks clues to the whereabouts of Bucho (Joaquim de Alameida), one of those responsible for the death of Domino (Consuelo Gomez) in the first flick. Apparently Bucho is the end of this line of revenge; Mariachi’s already knocked off the others. (Actually, if you saw the original movie, it seems clear he nailed everyone involved in Domino’s death then, but we’ll grant some creative license here.)

Essentially the rest of the movie is one big cat and mouse gunfight. Mariachi comes to the bar to figure out where to find Bucho, and a big battle ensues. Soon he meets a local bookseller named Carolina (Salma Hayek) on the street. He saves her life, so she cares for him after he gets shot. Inevitably, romance develops. When Bucho finds out that Mariachi’s after him, he sets up his defenses, and we also discover the baddie’s connection to our female lead.

Will this all end with a lot of bullets? Duh! To call the plot of Desperado a) threadbare and b) predictable would probably overstate the flick’s complexity. But I don’t regard an easy-to-read story as necessarily a weakness. After all, El Mariachi was pretty predictable, but that didn’t keep it from becoming sensational nonetheless.

Unfortunately, this flack lacks its predecessor’s hunger and energy. We notice Rodriguez’s increased budget for Desperado literally as the film opens. Gone are the cheap sets, no-name actors and music. Instead, we find a lavishly created bar along with Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin, and we hear a tune from Dire Straits play in the background. Cripes – I’ll bet the rights to that one song cost more than all of El Mariachi!

I’m not one of these folks who always thinks the cheap “indie” version of a flick is the best one. After all, I’ll take Terminator 2 over Terminator any day of the week.

However, in this case, the sequel fails to live up to the original. Rodriguez had nothing to lose when he made Mariachi, but here he needed to fret over his career. With Mariachi he got his foot in the door; Desperado was meant to let the rest of him enter.

This means that Rodriguez often suffers from “tries too hard” syndrome during Desperado. It feels like every scene is supposed to dazzle and overwhelm us, and he doesn’t let matters evolve naturally. No, it’s not like Rodriguez screams “look at me – I have money now!” The director remains miserly in his filmmaking ways to this day. But his ambition to overwhelm us overwhelms him and makes Desperado unnecessarily showy much of the time.

Rodriguez also seems to hop on a bandwagon with a distinct Pulp Fiction vibe. In addition to the casting of Quentin Tarantino in a small role, we see this influence via the action, pacing, editing, and music. Watch that opening scene with Buscemi and tell me it doesn’t feel like something directed by Tarantino. Heck, Quentin’s own scene seems like Tarantino might have even written it himself!

Ultimately, Desperado provides some good action set pieces and entertainment, and if one doesn’t directly compare it to El Mariachi, it probably works better. Unfortunately, it lacks its predecessor’s casual self-assurance. It feels more over the top and like an attempt to impress us. Occasionally it does so, but I still prefer the “nothing to lose” charm of El Mariachi.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-

Desperado appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Mostly the film looked gorgeous, but it lost a few points that kept it from being absolutely top-notch.

Sharpness appeared excellent. The movie consistently seemed crisp and detailed. I noticed no issues due to jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of light edge enhancement marred the presentation. Print flaws caused some minor distractions. To be sure, the movie looked much cleaner than the grain-fest that was El Mariachi, but given the flick’s vastly larger budget, I expected that. Desperado exhibited occasional specks but it generally appeared clean.

Colors provided a high point for this film. The movie demonstrated a rich palette that consistently seemed vivid and dynamic. The hues were tight and full and never suffered from any bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels were deep and dense, and low-light shots looked appropriately opaque without any concerns connected to excessive darkness. Lose the smattering of specks plus the mild edge enhancement and Desperado would be a glorious transfer. As it stood, the movie looked good enough to earn a “B+”.

Director Rodriguez clearly enjoyed the benefits of his increased budget when it came time to mix the movie, and Desperado’s Dolby Digital 5.1 showed what he could do with a little money. The soundfield seemed broad and lively. Music demonstrated solid stereo spread, as the score split nicely into the sides and blended cleanly. Effects really made good use of the various channels. All five speakers got a good workout during both loud and subtle sequences. For example, in an early dream sequence, the sound of one man clapping moved neatly all around the room. Of course, the gunfights came to life very well, as shots flew all around the spectrum. The surrounds weren’t equal partners, but they got a lot of use in this vivid and engrossing track.

The quality of the audio seemed positive as well. Dialogue always came across as natural and distinct, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was full and warm, and the track demonstrated good low-end response when necessary. The effects kicked the mix into higher gear and sounded simply terrific. The components were tight and concise, and they showed nice range. Bass response was deep and firm throughout the film. I couldn’t find much to complain about during this solid soundtrack.

This disc offers the fourth DVD release of Desperado. First Columbia put out a bare-bones effort in 1997, and they followed that with a special edition double feature in 1999 that paired Desperado with El Mariachi. The third release came from a Superbit version in 2001. The extras found here mostly come from that double feature set, which apparently took them from an earlier laserdisc.

We start with that release’s audio commentary from director Robert Rodriguez. A running, screen-specific piece, the track doesn’t appear as strong as those for Spy Kids 2 or El Mariachi, but Rodriguez nevertheless gives us an above-average discussion of his work.

Whereas the El Mariachi track focused mainly on the challenges of shooting on an extremely low budget, Rodriguez had 1000 times more money for Desperado, so that element takes a less prominent role. Nonetheless, since $7 million remained pretty low budget in 1995, the director relates some of the ways he made his movie look more expensive and gives us tips in that department. He also goes over creative and casting elements and relates fun anecdotes from the set.

Unlike his Spy Kids 2 and El Mariachi tracks, however, Rodriguez doesn’t maintain a consistently chatty pace. He actually falls silent for brief periods on a few occasions, and a little more than halfway through the movie, he indicates that he’s run out of notes! Rodriguez ably improvises, though, and he makes sure we learn more about the movie. Of the director’s solo tracks, this one’s the least compelling, but that still makes it better than most others, and it gives us a fair amount of good information about the flick.

A “sequel” to the El Mariachi DVD’s “Ten-Minute Film School”, Ten More Minutes: Anatomy of a Shootout actually lasts 10 minutes and 28 seconds. This program mostly focuses on one of the bar shootouts, but it also includes a little material about other sequences. Rodriguez’s use of “video storyboards” dominates the piece, as he shows us how he uses these to preplan shots. It’s not as good as the original “Film School”, but it’s generally an illuminating glimpse at the director’s methods.

In addition to filmographies for Rodriguez and actors Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin and Steve Buscemi, Desperado tosses in some promotional materials. We get a Sneak Peek for Rodriguez’s upcoming Once Upon a Time In Mexico. This gives us a four-minute and 27-second featurette that mostly combines shots from the set and soundbites from actors Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendes, Marco Leonardi, Julio Mechoso, and Enrique Iglesias. It’s not a deep program, but the glimpses behind the scenes aren’t bad. We also find trailers for Mexico, Desperado, and Love and a Bullet.

With 1000 times the budget of El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez created a sequel that didn’t match up to the original. Desperado has its moments, but overall it feels forced and like everyone involved tried too hard to impress us. The DVD presents very good picture and sound plus a decent set of supplements. Action fans will probably find this solid DVD to merit a look, but I definitely prefer El Mariachi and think it’s the more valuable of the two flicks.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0625 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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