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Robert Rodriguez
Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin
Writing Credits:
Robert Rodriguez

The time has come.

Leaping back into action, gun-slinging, guitar-toting hero "El Mariachi" is back in town in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, as director Robert Rodirguez delivers the epic final chapter of his pulp western trilogy. Starring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Enrique Iglesias and William Dafoe, Once Upon a Time In Mexico is a full-frontal assault.

Box Office:
$29 million.
Opening Weekend
$23.424 million on 3282 screens.
Domestic Gross
$55.845 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 1/20/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Rodriguez
• Isolated Effects/Music Track with Commentary
• Ten-Minute Flick School
• Ten-Minute Cooking School
• “The Anti-Hero’s Journey” Featurette
• “Film Is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez” Featurette
• “Inside Troublemaker Studios” Featurette
• “The Good, the Bad and the Bloody: Inside KNB FX” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Trailers
• Filmographies
• DVD-ROM Materials

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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Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 16, 2004)

Many directors put out two films in the same year, but in 2003, Robert Rodriguez did something very unusual. Not only did he release both Spy Kids 3 and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, but the two movies came out within seven weeks of each other! That’s a pretty rapid turnaround, but that fits with Rodriguez’s personality and style.

In another unusual move, both of these flicks ended trilogies, and Mexico did that in a different way as well. The story started with 1993’s micro-budgeted El Mariachi and continued with 1995’s Desperado. The weird part came from the recasting of the lead between flicks; with Desperado’s higher – though still relatively low by Hollywood standards – budget came a “name” actor in Antonio Banderas.

Eight years later, Banderas remains in place as Rodriguez finishes the story of the Mariachi. We quickly get reacquainted as we see El Mariachi (Banderas) and his love Carolina (Salma Hayek). We learn that she once was with General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) who didn’t want to let her go, so they attempted to kill him. Carolina put a bullet in Marquez’s heart but he didn’t die.

From there we meet a mysterious dude named Sands (Johnny Depp) who has his thugs nab Mariachi. We find out that the cartel run by dsjlkd Barillo (Willem Dafoe) will pay Marquez to assassinate the current Mexican president (Pedro Armendariz). Sands wants Mariachi to kill Marquez but not until after the general slays the president.

The film presents a fairly complicated plot, but it mainly boils down to that story. The entire tale leads toward a climactic Day of the Dead speech by the president at which the planned assassinations will occur. We also find out what happened to Carolina.

My synopsis makes the movie sound pretty simple and straightforward, but unfortunately, it becomes quite convoluted. That creates one of the movie’s main weaknesses. The plot follows a rambling path and doesn’t go in terribly logical ways. Its tone shifts fairly radically for little discernible reason. Rodriguez manages to tie things together acceptably well, but the film often feels scattered and unfocused.

The flick also suffers from “guest star-itis”. In addition to the actors already mentioned, Mexico features moderately known performers like Mickey Rourke, Ruben Blades, Enrique Iglesias, and Eva Mendes. At times it feels like the movie tries harder to fit in all these performers and their plots than it attempts to maintain a coherent story.

This means that the Mariachi often comes across as a guest in his own flick. He comes and goes without much impact and doesn’t seem like a primary participant. Carolina particularly offers little presence; to see Hayek billed second among the various players seems odd given her essential absence from the film. Depp comes across as the main player in the flick, but even he vanishes for long periods. This leaves the movie without much focus.

A lot of these issues make more sense when you learn about the film’s production. It went through rushed circumstances, and some of the actors – especially Hayek – appear little simply because they weren’t available to do more than that. Knowledge of these restraints allow us to better understand why the film takes the path it does, but this information doesn’t actually compensate and the results any less disjointed.

Not that Mexico lacks any positives. Rodriguez continues to display his talents as an action director. He pulls off some genuinely exciting set pieces. In particular, one in which Mariachi and Carolina escape from a fifth-floor window while chained together seems inventive and fun. A few more good scenes appear, and these give the film life at times.

As usual, Depp provides a fine performance. He makes Sands a glib and light performance that seems both amusing and entertaining. None of the other actors display any real problems, but only Depp manages to stand out from the crowd. In his limited time, he makes a real impression and creates the flick’s best moments.

Unfortunately, these bits pop up too infrequently to make Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The movie has its moments, but these don’t occur often enough to allow the film to prosper. Mexico gives us some sporadic entertainment but remains something of a disappointment.

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

Once Upon a Time In Mexico appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Note that this doesn’t represent the film’s theatrical aspect ratio; Mexico ran in theaters at 2.35:1. From what I understand, Rodriguez shot the film at 1.78:1 on hi-def cameras and then cropped it to 2.35:1 for theatrical exhibition. Why’d he decide to go back to the original 1.78:1 ratio for the DVD? I have no idea, though I thought the framing seemed fine as I watched Mexico.

Whatever the case may be, Mexico mostly presented an attractive picture. Overall, sharpness seemed satisfying. Occasionally some wider shots looked a bit ill-defined, but those didn’t occur with any frequency. The majority of the flick came across as accurate and distinctive. I noticed no concerns connected to jagged edges or shimmering, but some mild edge enhancement cropped up at times. Print flaws seemed absent. I noticed no signs of grit, marks, or other defects in this clean transfer.

Colors presented a strong aspect of the transfer. Rodriguez gave much of the film a lush look that promoted warm red and golden tones. The hues always came across as rich and firm. Black levels were also deep and taut, but shadows seemed a little erratic. A few low-light situations – particularly at the start of the film – were somewhat dense and lacked great definiton. Nonetheless, mostly of the movie looked quite good, and the transfer largely lived up to modern expectations.

Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Once Upon a Time In Mexico. The soundfield seemed nicely engaging and active. The track used all five channels quite aggressively, as the mix featured a lot of distinctive material. Music showed good stereo imaging and offered a fine sense of environment. The film’s many action sequences created a lot of opportunities for dynamic elements, and it did so well. Occasionally I thought these seemed a little too “speaker specific”, but they mostly blended together well and formed a fairly seamless feeling of placement. The surrounds kicked in with a great deal of material, especially via the many gunfights.

Audio quality appeared solid. Speech was consistently natural and concise, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music seemed a little subdued at times but mostly came across as acceptably vibrant and dynamic. Effects were consistently clean and accurate, and they packed a nice punch when necessary. Bass response seemed quite good; lows were deep and tight and didn’t suffer from excessive looseness or boominess. Ultimately, Mexico offered a very good soundtrack.

As one expects from DVDs for Robert Rodriguez films, Mexico comes equipped with a nice roster of extras. We open with an audio commentary from Rodriguez, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. A veteran of many other commentaries, Rodriguez is a master of the form, and he offers a typically excellent track here. Rodriguez covers many topics but mostly focuses on the rushed nature of the production. We find out how quickly he created the flick and also hear about many elements of the movie like casting, writing the script, the score, production design, and locations. Rodriguez loves to tout the merits of high-def cameras, and he tells us how those affected the shoot. We even find out different actors considered for some roles and the director’s thoughts on a possible sequel to Mexico. Rodriguez rarely pauses for even a breath as he gives us yet another rich and detailed discussion of his work.

We hear more from Rodriguez in the music and sound design track with commentary. The multi-talented director also “shot, chopped and scored” the flick, which means he becomes the most qualified to talk about its audio. Rodriguez’s commentary starts off as a prominent part of the piece but he speaks less and less as it progresses. When he talks, he offers some interesting information about the score, its themes, and his intentions. He also provides pointers for aspiring filmmakers and a few demos of his compositions.

Much of the track consists of the isolated score. We hear music most of the time; effects appear only when no score exists. Both come via 5.1 audio. Personally, I’d have liked more commentary than we find here, but it’s nonetheless a well-executed and generally useful feature.

Another echo of prior Rodriguez DVDs, Ten Minute Flick School actually runs nine minutes, three seconds. It packs scads of information into that span, as we get a great look at how Rodriguez shot Mexico on the cheap. He narrates the program as we watch raw film footage, effects work, and finished clips. Rodriguez touches on many techniques he utilized during the production. He already chatted about more than a few of these in his commentary, but the fact we can watch them as well makes “School” more valuable. It’s a briskly paced and very informative piece.

An addition element offers a glimpse Inside Troublemaker Studios. In this 11-minute and 20-second featurette, Rodriguez takes us through the home garage he converted into his audio and editing studio. He shows us all the equipment and demonstrates how he uses the items. This is another good tool to depict how Rodriguez manages so many jobs on his flicks.

For more of the multi-talented Rodriguez, we go to the Ten Minute Cooking School. In this five-minute and 47-second program, the director demonstrates how to make puerco pibil, the dish prominently featured in the movie. It looks too complicated for a lazy-ass like me, but it’s fun to get these tips.

In another featurette, we examine The Anti-Hero’s Journey. This 18-minute and one-second program offers footage from the set and interviews with Rodriguez plus actors Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, and Salma Hayek. They chat about the roots of the earlier films, this one’s route to the screen, stunts and the characters. The actors tell us a little about working with Rodriguez “Journey” seems fluffier than I’d like, as we hear too much generic praise. A lot of the other information already appears in the commentary. Still, some of the behind the scenes shots work well.

Shot at a Q&A from the summer of 2003, Film Is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez runs for 13 minutes and 16 seconds. Essentially this covers the director’s love for hi-def filming. He talks about his use of the format and strongly touts it as the way to go. We already heard a lot of this in the commentary, so “Dead” gets tedious pretty quickly, as it seems more like a religious movement than a real discussion of the issues.

Apparently Rodriguez doesn’t do everything on his movies, so The Good, the Bad and the Bloody: Inside KNB FX shows that studio’s work on the flick. This featurette runs 19 minutes and one second as we see behind the scenes footage and interviews with Rodriguez, special make-up effects artists Shannon Shea and Jake Garber, special make-up effects supervisor Greg Nicotero, KNB lab technician Harrison Lorenzana, and actors Depp. They discuss the studio’s origins, general challenges of the flick, and specific elements like Sands’ fake arm and the Cheech dummy. It’s a tight and informative program that covers its subjects concisely and well.

Next we find eight deleted scenes. These run between 31 seconds and 123 seconds for a total of seven minutes and 14 seconds of material. None of these add much to the proceedings, though we get a few more funny bits from Depp. These can be viewed with or without commentary from Rodriguez. He gives us some quick notes about the sequences and usually – but not always – tells us why the pieces got the boot.

We also get Filmographies for director Rodriguez plus actors Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Johnny Depp. In an unusual step for a Columbia DVD, Mexico opens with some ads. When you first start the disc, you’ll find trailers for Hellboy and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. In addition, the DVD’s “trailers” domain includes those two promos plus two ads for Mexico and clips for In the Cut, The Missing, Underworld, You Got Served, Big Fish, Desperado and El Mariachi.

Finally, Mexico comes with some extras for DVD-ROM users. “Tiro Al Blanco” offer a fairly lame “shooting gallery” game. The “Loteria” provides a card game in which you make character-based choices that affect the results. It lacks much relay value but it’s fun while it lasts. Finally, the DVD-ROM area gives us links to Columbia-Tristar Home Entertainment and Sony Picture Entertainment.

A fairly slapdash affair, Once Upon a Time In Mexico includes some sporadically entertaining and clever bits. However, as a whole the film seems too erratic and patched together to ever become something generally winning. The DVD presents very good picture and sound plus a solid set of supplements. Fans of the work of Robert Rodriguez will want to give this fine DVD a spin, but I can’t recommend it otherwise.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1 Stars Number of Votes: 20
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