Monday, September 6, 2010

Movie Review: El Mariachi

Since Robert Rodriguez' Machette just opened (I think), and I just rewatched his first feature length film, I guess this is a good time to post a review of this movie that few have even heard of.

El Mariachi is the first film in the Rodriguez Mariachi trilogy, with Desperado being the 2nd, and Once Upon A Time In Mexico the third. It doesn't look like there's a Mariachi character in Machette, though I haven't seen it yet. The Wikipedia entry says El Mariachi was intended for the Mexican video market (it was filmed in Spanish), and never shown in theaters in the U.S., as far as I can tell.

El Mariachi was filmed in Mexico, with unknown actors, for only $7000, which I didn't know until doing a little research for the review. There's not a lot in the way of special effects, aside from some blank guns and the singing scenes being overdubbed, but I didn't notice any bad acting from the cast. I would not have guessed that the movie only cost $7000 to make.

The mariachi (who's never named) walks into town with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a guitar. He stops into a bar, looking for work, and orders a soda, but this bar already has a musician. The bar's musician is dozing in the corner. With a whistle from the bartender, the house musician quickly sets up a synthesizer and plays for El Mariachi, flashes a smug look at the wandering musician, and then just as quickly goes back to dozing.

Our mariachi pays for his soda and moves on to the next bar in town.

The man, who you see at the very beginning of the move breaking out of jail, walks into the bar just as the mariachi is walking out. He asks if the men sitting around in the bar are Moco’s men, which they are, and proceeds to wipe out everyone in the bar, except for the bartender.

The movie cuts back to out mariachi sitting down at bar #2, and he orders another soda. The bartender, a woman, gives him a hard time about ordering a soft drink. The mariachi explains that he’s a singer and that he doesn’t want to harm his voice, and tells her that he’s looking for work. She explains that she can’t afford to pay him, and he more or less storms out, depressed and upset, having struck out again.

The mariachi continues on to a cheap motel. The hotel manager tips off the local drug dealer (Maurice, a.k.a. Moco), that a man dressed in black, carrying a guitar case has just checked it. The man Moco is looking for is Azul, the one who broke out of jail and killed 6 of his men in the bar.

The mariachi, caught up in a case of mistaken identity, runs out of the motel, into the streets of town, and manages to evade the hit squad, and kills four of them in the process. I'm not sure how the musician learned how to handle a MAC-10 so well, but whatever.

Not knowing where else to go, I suppose, not knowing anyone else in town, he ducks into bar #2, and explains what just happened. The bartender, who identifies herself as Domino, takes pity on him, and has him hide out in her room upstairs. It’s not long before one of Moco’s men comes in and asks about a man in black, with a guitar case full of weapons. Domino tells the man that she doesn’t know anything about the guy in black, and he leaves. So then, she goes upstairs and gets the mariachi by the balls, literally, until she discovers that what he has in the guitar case is. . . really a guitar.

Domino explains to the mariachi that the bar was a given to her by Moco. Moco’s been trying to buy her love for quite a while.

So now everybody’s on the same page. . . except for Moco’s men, who don’t really know what Azul looks like. Only Moco himself has seen Azul. Between the 6 men killed by Azul in the bar shooting, and the 4 that the mariachi killed in self-defense in the streets of town, Moco is now down 10 men. Moco doesn't know know the mariachi is in town, and assumes that it's Azul who killed all 10.

There’s another run in, between Moco’s men and the mariachi in the town. Azul grabs Domino, who the mariachi has fallen in love with, and takes her at gunpoint to Moco’s hacienda, trying to get the money he’s owed. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you and spell out the 2nd half of the plot.

Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico do refer back to parts of El Mariachi.

If you like super-happy fairy tale endings, you will be disappointed. Personally, I like the ending.

So, for a very-low-budget made-for-video movie, it's definitely not bad. If you really liked Desperado and/or Once Upon A Time In Mexcio, this movie will give you the backstory on the main character.

The action is mostly limited to a couple of scenes, and they're not anything like the lobby scenes of The Matrix or Terminator 2. It's a lot more like No Country For Old Men.

There are a few sort of silly moments. The hotel manager and the synthesizer musician move in fast-motion for comic effect, sort of like a scene out of a episode of The Benny Hill Show.

With the exception of the musician's uncanny knack for self-defense, it's a good movie and worth picking up. The version I watched was dubbed in English, but the ones I see for sale now are only in Spanish with English subtitles, which I know some will argue is actually better. Either way, if you can find a copy of the movie on DVD for less than $10 (there's many showing in Amazon's Marketplace), I'd say it's worth buying. You can also buy the Mariachi trilogy as a set.

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