[box cover]

Desperado: Special Edition

Given a bigger budget, a bigger crew, and a cast of actors with more professional credits under their belts, novice filmmaker Robert Rodriguez followed up his 1992 indie debut El Mariachi by essentially making the same movie over again, as an English-language sequel — just bigger, louder and slicker, designed for mainstream appeal. This time the mariachi is played by Antonio Banderas; he has a guitar case full of guns and he's after the drug lord who killed his wife. Taking inspiration in equal parts from Sergio Leone, John Woo, and Quentin Tarantino (who appears in the film as a drug buyer who meets a spectacularly gory end), Rodriguez again plays all kinds of stylish games with pacing, camera, editing, and atmosphere. It's an impressive piece of filmmaking, but colder and less involving than its predecessor — Rodriguez seems to be having far less fun with the pressures of a big budget riding on his shoulders and, while it's terrific to look at, the characters and the story are less emotionally compelling. A brutally, unrelentingly sexy Salma Hayek plays the mariachi's new love interest, and this time around the drug lord is Joaquim de Almeida, perhaps better remembered from Clear and Present Danger, where he also played a drug lord (stereotyped much?) Also along for the ride are Cheech Marin as a bartender and bar customer Steve Buscemi, who starts the film on a high note as he shares the story of another bar in another town, where he encountered a mysterious man who always walked in shadow — "and when he walks into a light, it's like it clicks off ... and all you can see are his eyes." Desperado is an excessively violent film, with the violence writ large and cartoon-like (at one point, bazookas are involved) and comes off less as the story of a man's search for vengeance as it does a director's search for fun ways to play with all the expensive toys at his disposal. It's still a fun ride, though, with a terrific soundtrack by Los Lobos and a wicked sense of humor that helps distract from what little really happens in the film besides the admittedly spectacular shoot-em-ups. Columbia TriStar's Desperado: Special Edition is their third DVD release of film, following a technically inferior double-feature disc with El Mariachi and a bare bones Superbit release that offered an exceptionally good anamorphic transfer but no extras. The transfer here, while lacking the technical qualities of the Superbit version, is superior to the double-disc release — the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is very clean and very bright, with virtually no scratches or dust. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is wonderful, with dialogue holding its own alongside lots of low-range explosions, gunshots, and other sounds of mayhem. Rodriguez's commentary track is extraordinarily informative — a must for film-school geeks or anyone who wants to hear the down-and-dirty details of bringing in a film under budget. There's also a behind-the-scenes featurette, "10 More Minutes with Robert Rodriguez: Anatomy of a Shootout," a sneak peek at Once Upon a Time in Mexico, cast-and-crew notes, and a free trial of Screenblast video-editing software. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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