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Mon, June 24

'Once Upon a Time' is more than mindless action and violence<BR>

It's an action film, yes, but "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" is more than that – heck, it's Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek and Eva Mendez and sexy Mexican guitar music – it's a sensual, romantic piece about life, love, revenge and big guns.

"Once Upon a Time in Mexico" is the third in Robert Rodriguez's trilogy about Banderas' character. Even though it's part of a series, viewers who haven't seen the first two ("El Mariachi" and "Desperado") will understand the plot of "Once Upon a Time" because some of the characters in the beginning of the film recount the first two.

Enter Depp, a CIA agent, Sands, who hires "El Mariachi" (Banderas) to kill General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil), after Marquez carries out the wishes of the Barillo cartel and kills the president of Mexico.

Now, enter Banderas, "El Mariachi," who people call "El" (Spanish for "the"), because he has legendary status.

And no wonder. Banderas looks so amazing in this film with chin-length hair and fitted black pants – and he's a romantic soul, pining after the lost love of his life, Carolina (Salma Hayek) who Marquez killed previously.

Depp, too, does a great job with his corrupt CIA agent character. He's corrupt, yes, but loyal and utterly likable.

Willem Dafoe, as Barillo, leader of the Barillo drug cartel, plays an excellent bad guy – cunning and vicious, heartless and cold.

"Once Upon a Time in Mexico" provides a twist behind every turn. It remains unpredictable throughout, with instances of sabotage and betrayal mixed with loyalty and friendship. It's good versus evil, but the question of who is good and who is evil remains throughout.

Although viewers definitely must apply the suspension of disbelief tactic to really get into some of the action scenes, those scenes don't go on too long or become too unrealistic.

And in "Once Upon a Time," as in many action films, the blood-spattered walls and bloody faces get to be a little too much.

Some people say violence in television and movies has desensitized American society. It's probably true, but nevertheless, El Mariachi and his comrades have some very cool weapons.

The force from the bullets from one gun sent the victim (a bad guy, of course) skidding across a shiny floor, and a remote-control bomb blew another victim (another bad guy) out of his jeep. Pretty darn cool, despite big numbers on the violence scale.

Banderas makes some pretty cool moves and, like Austin Powers, he's a hero in his own right.

"The secret to winning," Sands (Depp) says at one point, "is creative sportsmanship. In other words, you have to rig the game."

Imagine a game where all the players are thinking the same thing.

If Rodriguez, who directs, produces and wrote the movie, continues to turn out such high-quality films, he too will become a legend, just like El Mariachi.

Running time: 101 minutes. Rated R for violence and language.

Contact Hilary Eller at

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