Jarv’s Birthday Series: Desperado (1995)
After Natural Born Killers stuck its unpleasant nose into my golden period, I’m pleased to slide back into the series on a high point. I like films like this, preposterous, overblown, ridiculous, comical, violent and action packed. It’s another slice of Dumbhouse gold, and given the very high-concept films surrounding it in this series (Freeway is next, and that’s an incredibly high-concept movie), a film about a large Mexican shooting people is a very, very pleasant diversion.
Desperado is Robert Rodriguez’ sequel to El Mariachi and the second film of his Mexico trilogy. It’s another film that could quite easily have fit in Droid’s blowing things up series, but as luck would have it (well, my luck) it was released on 25th August 1995 in America. This is a film that I own on DVD and am hugely familiar with, a gun-toting explosion fest that’s quirky, violent, comical and massively entertaining.
Desperado opens with Steve Buscemi in Cheech Marin’s bar telling a story about “El Mariachi” (Antonio Banderas). El has been travelling around Mexico shooting his way up the drugs chain with guns he keeps in his guitar case. He’s after Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the local kingpin. Cut to a few days later, and Cheech is organising a drugs deal (with Quentin Tarantino in an acting high) when Banderas enters the pub and the fireworks start. Having killed everyone, he falls in with local bookstore owner Carolina (a frankly gorgeous Salma Hayek), and Bucho is on a mission to kill him. Assassins turn up (an incredibly menacing performance from Danny Trejo). Things blow up, Banderas kills more people than cancer, and eventually wins the day with the help of his equally insane band.
This film is fantastically entertaining. It’s an incredibly simple premise that Rodriguez allows to whip along at high speed. The action may be preposterous (Banderas jumping backwards off the roof shooting away) but it’s so damned amusing that I can’t really complain. Furthermore, Rodriguez is a dab hand at comedy and there are many little comic touches: Tarantino’s joke, or Cheech’s comment to the American tourist when she complains that the beer tastes like piss that pick the film up and do genuinely induce laughs. The comedy is an integral part to the film, and without the deliberate humour here it would be a far more glum affair and as a result, much less enjoyable.
The acting here is top notch. Banderas plays it with twinkly-eyed charm, Almeida is full of menace as Bucho, and the film itself is stuffed full of pitch-perfect performances (Buscemi’s weaselly sidekick, for example). The only really weak link is Hayek, but she’s got other assets that more than make up for a slightly wooden turn. Trejo in a small part is all snarling menace as the Assassin, and the moment when Bucho realises that his henchmen have killed the hit man is amusing as all hell. Bucho, actually, has a very short temper in this film and being one of his henchmen is not a job with great career prospects.
There’s not a huge amount more to say about this. It’s just loads of fun and Banderas shoots lots and lots of people. There are so many hugely enjoyable individual scenes (the gun fight in the bar where Banderas and his target are searching through the discharged firearms looking for one with a round in it is hilarious). Sure, the action here may well be hugely preposterous, and the film itself may well be dumber than a sack of rocks, but that doesn’t matter because it’s so damned entertaining. A lot of credit for this must go to Rodriguez, who was on a career high at this point with The Faculty coming a few years after. He’s, sadly, not made anything on this level since with Once Upon a Time in Mexico being amusing but not anywhere near as good and suffering from a sadly terrible last act, Sin City being patchy and propped up by a couple of excellent performances, and the wholly lacklustre Spy Kids films. The less said about Grindhouse the better.
However, at the time, he was a director full of promise. These early films were entertaining ‘splosion fests and he wasn’t shy of stuffing his films full of features designed to appeal to teenagers and men. This is a case in point in that there’s a ludicrous amount of gunplay, breasts, humour, explosions and even more gunplay. Desperado is a monstrously entertaining film, and to be honest, it’s one that I find extremely hard to write about due to the simplicity of it. There’s nothing to say here, really, as Desperado is a polished and entertaining diversion and one that certainly passes a few enjoyable hours.
Overall, Desperado is a storming romp. It’s on a similar level to Hard Target, but not as dim, and is one that I’ve really been happy to watch again for this series. If I have a complaint about it, then this is that I don’t like the openly manipulative fat kid, and Spanish guitar isn’t really music I like. Nevertheless, this is a storming film chock full of things that make me smile, and as such I give it a well-earned 3 Cartoon Bandito’s out of 4. Stonking work.
Next up is Freeway, a severely underrated film, and a gloriously twisted take on Little Red Riding Hood.
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers (1 out of 4)
- 1995 – Desperado (3 out of 4)
- 1996 – Freeway
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian