Following on from the minor success of his first film El Mariachi comes Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado a full-blooded retelling of a very similar story but with millions of dollars thrown into production. Gone is Gallardo’s Mariachi, replaced with Antonio Banderas’version, who is everything his predecessor was and more. Playing opposite him is future Rodriguez regular Salma Hayek, igniting young boys fantasies for years to come.
In a bar in a small Mexican town, an unnamed American (Steve Buschemi) recounts the story of a massacre he witnessed at the hands of a man simply known as El Mariachi (Banderas). Having told his story, the man then goes to visit El Mariachi and explains that the bar is a good starting place to look for his target. After a gunfight with his target’s men, Mariachi meets and falls in love with Carolina (Hayek) the owner of bookstore who is under the control of El Mariachi’s target, the drug kingpin Bucho.
To create your first Hollywood-financed film with exactly the same plot as your original independent work may seem like an unusual choice from Rodriguez. However working from the mindset of giving them exactly what first drew them to your work is a stroke of genius. Desperado‘s action scenes, while similar is style and frenetic action are bigger, louder and more over-the-top, which helps to create a masterpiece in manic Western-themed violence.
Desperado‘s lead pair Banderas and Hayek share such all out sexual chemistry that they help create a further air of fantasy to proceedings. Gone are the edgy, independently-spirited scenes of El Mariachi, replaced as they are with some of the most energised and thrilling action of the mid-1990s. Inspiration of Rodriguez’s friend Quentin Tarantino is clear, even manifesting in a cameo for the director of Pulp Fiction. As with their future project Grindhouse, the two men have similar intent but with very different approach, Tarantino being all about dialogue to create tension while, as Desperado shows, Rodriguez is more about over-the-top action scenes.
Being early in Rodriguez’s career, Desperado does not suffer from the excesses of later films of his and is fast-paced and adrenaline-fuelled action from a man who has a distinct idea of caricatured character and stylised action. Proof that taking the heart of an independent film and throwing money at production can produce something of greater quality, Desperado remains one of Rodriguez’s best.