Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gomez, Reinol Martinez, Peter Marquardt
Plot: A wandering Mariachi (Gallardo) comes into town, hoping to find work, but gets mistaken for a wanted gangster.
This movie is not for everyone. Hell, I haven’t even decided if it is for me yet. At the same time, I have to admire Rodriguez for what he has done here. He put together this movie with merely seven grand, which is peanuts in movie terms. In order to raise that money, he did some pretty nasty things, so when watching this movie, you have to admire what Rodriguez has done here. At the same time, you have to put up with pretty cheap effects and some amateur filming. You could be very well watching a feature film made by a media student.
It opens up shakily. A gangster called Azul is running a small-time business from his own jail cell, when the guy who owes him a lot of money decides to send three gangsters to his cell and take him out. Azul has planned for this eventuality, however, and promptly takes out his would-be killers. He then leaves his cell (opening up a number of plot holes that I cannot be bothered to think about right now) and goes on a quest for vengeance. Every flaw in this movie is highlighted in this sequence. Martinez’s acting is lost on a cheap camera and some hasty fight choreography. But stick with it, because this film will reward you for your patience.
The action cuts to Carlos Gallardo, the star of this film. He plays a down-on-his-luck mariachi who hopes to find steady work at a city. Sadly Azul’s trademark is a stash of weapons hidden in his guitar case. Moco, the gangster who wants Azul dead, mistakes this mariachi for Azul. The film is mostly made up of chase sequences as Gallardo runs from gangsters, a look of panic and confusion permanently on his face. It is with Gallardo that the film is saved. His humour, charm and acting holds the film together and when Rodriguez stops showing off with action sequences that really need more money put into them, we see the director’s charm. He and Gallardo bounce off each other, really hitting every note the film is going for.
If the action fails to hit the spot, the humour is, at least, in the right place. There is a fantastic scene where Domino, the girl who takes Gallardo in, holds a knife to his testacles and forces him to play the guitar to prove he is, in fact, the mariachi and not Azul. The song lyrics can’t help but put a smile on your face. It is many of these little gags that keep the film afloat. Other than that, you are here to see where the great Rodriguez started out. There are several themes that you will notice in his later films. This film, like many of his others, has several interesting characters that end up clashing for a finale by the end. This film is best appreciated with a beforehand knowledge of some of Rodriguez’s other films (I recommend Machete and Sin City).
Sadly, for all of its charm, it is hard to get over the fact that this is a low-budget action flick. You feel like you should be enjoying what you are seeing, but you never truly do. The lack of money means that the showdown at the end, although shocking, isn’t really as action-packed as it should be. Rodriguez does what he can, but sadly, the budget falls short of the mark. Just be grateful that this film got him recognised and gave him money to make Desperados, the follow-up.
Final verdict: Too low-key to really be the action movie it wants to be. Points for trying though.