Desparately seeking Tarantino

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In 1992, a student from Texas, Robert Rodriguez, was engulfed in the media spotlight when he raised $7,000 and filmed "El Mariachi," one of the most entertaining movies that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie was roughly assembled and the hand-held camerawork bounced along, telling the story of a simple mariachi who was mistaken for a gunman and thrown into a web of wild mayhem. While the film was certainly not the most polished production of the year, its fantastic energy and sharp irony left critics bedazzled.

Rodriguez immediately signed a contract with Columbia Pictures, who released "El Mariachi" as a commercial feature after spending $100,000 in post production renovations. Rodriguez became one of the independent success stories that inspired struggling filmmakers everywhere.

"Desperado" is Rodriguez's first Hollywood production and it's actually a sequel to "El Mariachi." But despite the high expectations surrounding the film, "Desperado" is one of the most pointless and juvenile movies of the year. With its quick cutting and over-the-top slow-motion violence, it's obviously the work of a filmmaker trying hard to get someone's attention. Despite its innovative attitude, however, "Desperado" is formulated to capitalize on Rodriguez's popularity with the "alternative" film sub-culture by incorporating elements lifted straight from Quentin Tarantino movies. Rodriguez fills his movie with superfluous monologues, garish violence, alternative musical rhythms and a standard, fast-talking cameo by Tarantino himself. This is Tarantino's shtick all over again, but Rodriguez is incapable of investing the material with any life whatsoever.

There are other filmmakers Rodriguez tries to mimic, like Sam Peckinpah and John Woo, the popular director of Hong Kong action extravaganzas. "Desperado" is primarily a collection of elaborate slow-motion gunfights that defy any sense of physical reality as the Mariachi With No Name shoots anyone he thinks is linked to Bucho, the formidable druglord he holds responsible for the killing of his girlfriend. People dive off balconies, explosions throw villains flailing into the air and every effort is made to keep the mariachi looking as suave and sexy as a comic book hero.

Where is the irony of "El Mariachi?" Why is the mariachi now a grim version of Rambo? Why does Rodriguez insist on repeating the same slow-motion camera movements in every scene? Why won't the thumping soundtrack stop once in a while? Rodriguez doesn't supply any answers and the result is a completely overblown film that makes no effort to support its drama in any logical fashion. Characters appear out of nowhere, plot developments begin and end at the drop of a hat, and the movie's tone jumps from humorous monologues to violent carnage to softcore sex-by-the-numbers without any inclination of consistency.

The charm of "El Mariachi" was two-fold: not only was the unlucky protagonist caught in a crisis over his head, but the filmmaker was too. Part of the film's excitement was watching Rodriguez push his limited resources to visually and emotionally make a film as exciting and engrossing as possible. From first frame to last, "Desperado" basks in a filmmaker's attempt to fool an audience into thinking it's seeing something much more exciting than it is, a hodgepodge of mediocre elements leftover from other people's successes.

"Desperado" is showing at Century Park 16, 620-0750.

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