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ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO

Here’s fiery proof that South of the border, down Mexico way, there’s no shortage of sex, drugs, violence, screwball humor, hot music and bizarre CIA operatives.

CAST: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Ruben Blades, Eva Mendes, Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke, Cecilia Tijerina, Danny Trejo, Gerardo Vigil, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez

"Mr. Rodriguez has a feverish, inventive eye, and an ability to infuse digital video, so often flat and grainy, with uncommon depth and luster. He can chop together an action sequence with eye-popping flair, and his soundtrack music, with its flamenco whispers and heavy metal screeches, is pretty good, too. The only thing missing is a coherent story — or even, for that matter, an interesting idea for one. Even by the applicable standards of pulpy B-movie chaos, ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ is a noisy, unholy mess, with moments of wit and surprise that ultimately make its brutal tedium all the more disappointing…in the end, the punched-up editing and vibrant color schemes start to grow tiresome, and Mr. Rodriguez, bored with his own gimmickry and completely out of ideas, responds by pushing the violence to needlessly grotesque extremes. Eyes are gouged out, legs are severed by gunfire and a bloody, fleshless face gapes on an operating table." --A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"For those who fell hard for Johnny Depp after seeing ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,’ in which he pulled off the most playfully clever performance of the summer, there's ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ to keep the fire burning…Depp tosses off nearly as many deadpan quips as he did in ‘Pirates’ and steals the movie from everyone else in the cast, including a rugged Antonio Banderas, who is perfect for the role of a man haunted by grief. Depp's good looks and Banderas' smoldering appeal go a long way toward softening the blow of Mexico's bullet-riddled action sequences…Rodriguez is such a visual stylist, and the violence is so cartoonish, that the flurry of whizzing bullets and growing pile of bodies is not as offensive as it might be." --Claudia Puig, USA Today

"Johnny Depp is on a roll. First he swashbuckles off with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Now he steals every scene he's in as Sands, a rogue CIA agent who doesn't let a small thing like getting his eyes gouged out stop him from a gunfight. He slips on a pair of shades to hide the blood dripping from his peepers and hires a kid to tell him where to aim. You don't want to miss Depp in this movie -- he knocks it out of the park." --Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

"Rodriguez effortlessly deploys the rituals and fetishes of the western and action genres -- the blood and bullets, the fire and leather and cleavage -- but always with a sly, self-referential wit. The violence is so stylized that it's virtually abstract; the double-fisted showdowns and near-constant gunplay are so cartoonish that they outpace the flaccid comic-book adaptations that came out earlier this summer…Welcome to Robert Rodriguez's world: slick, anarchic, larger-than-life and, always, exuberantly irreverent…the real star of ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ isn't Banderas, or even the guns, but Depp, who is quickly proving to be the most larcenous man in show business by stealing every movie he's in…Depp is at once loathsome and compulsively likable; Sands might ruthlessly dispatch an innocent man for cooking too well, but he's also the kind of guy who rigs a bullfight in favor of the bull." --Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

"Robert Rodriguez is a wizard when it comes to making films on shoestring budgets. So take his wallet away…‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ doesn't have half the charm of its two cut-rate predecessors. Paying homage to Sergio Leone, ‘Mexico’ aims too high and, in the process, becomes more like every generic, overplotted drug-cartel-and-revenge flick out there." --Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News

"Robert Rodriguez is the ebullient one-man band of kinetic pulp…He loves to ride the camera along the ground like a stunt vehicle, snaking up to someone who's holding a very big gun, and then splinter the images like shrapnel. Mostly, though, he careers from one intrigue to the next like a comic-book visionary high on tequila. He has made a dense, jangled, quasi-coherent fantasy of conspiracy and doom, in which everyone on screen is trying to stab everyone else in the back…‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ taps the pulp dynamic of its time, which is zappy, fragmentary action layered on top of too much information. It's pop filmmaking at its headiest, maybe because it never quite gets outside the filmmaker's head." --Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

"‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ has a wonderful over-the-top opening…But the elan of this sequence soon evaporates; nothing but its ketchup-splattered outrageousness seeps into the rest of the movie. The jokes get coarser, the action more clotted and disconnected and the set pieces more strained. What's memorable is a fistful of images…A parade of punny wisecracks and brash gimmicks support the action in Rodriguez's picture like swaying tent poles…Johnny Depp does his best to breathe some life into the role of a CIA man who sees American democracy as the world's great leveler, making the world safe for mediocrity. He turns walking-softly-and-carrying-a-big-stick into a comic style; he brings a playful iciness -- a sort of snow-cone flavor -- to his sex scenes. Unfortunately, his fey technique wars with Rodriguez's pop-opera ambitions." --Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

"…a movie that goes so wrong so abruptly it's as if a meteor were heading for the set and everyone had to evacuate… a movie populated by nothing but supporting players -- the result of a byzantine plotline, which one supposes is an homage to the equally convoluted '60s spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone…If there's a star of the film, it's Johnny Depp, who's having a great year…Depp proves, as he did in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ that he has a great sense of comedic timing, as well as a great sense of swagger…Despite her prominence in the print ads, Hayek is in the movie all of 10 minutes, and all of that flashback. Banderas is a moody, magnetic star but underused, at least by Rodriguez… There are shots that are simply meaningless; the storyline, knotty enough, is made more baroque by useless scenes and characters… And then, as if heading for the last refuge of an exhausted screenwriter, Rodriguez turns the film into some kind of anthem of Mexican patriotism, which comes out of nowhere and goes there just as quickly." --Jan Stuart, Newsday

"Johnny Depp is gaining a reputation as a serial film bandit. His flamboyant swashbuckler walked away with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and he's off on his own scene-stealing trip again in the frisky guitars-and-guns lark ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’…Ostensibly, the final chapter in Robert Rodriguez's spaghetti western trilogy revolves around the sexy Antonio Banderas' brooding, flop-haired hero, a gun-toting troubadour known only as El Mariachi. But it's the addition of Depp's corrupt CIA agent, Sands, that really makes this violent, over-the-top action film, with its maze-like plot, sing…no other actor could bring just the right dose of knowing drollery to the ludicrous line: ‘Are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can't?’…From the south-of-the-border soundtrack and squinty Sergio Leone-inspired close-ups, to the vigorous quick-cuts and use of a mythologizing golden light, ‘Mexico’ is a heady mix of Tarantino-esque pulp." --Megan Lehmann, The New York Post

"Poor Antonio Banderas. He's sexy, good-looking and supposedly the star of ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’… So how is it that Johnny Depp, in what was clearly meant to be a supporting role, steals the picture? …Banderas may be convincing as a macho man -- his guitar-toting character kills enough people to keep a mortician busy for months -- but Depp's quirky CIA agent gives the film its ironic heart and funky soul. It's a performance that calls attention to itself, in much the same way as his unforgettably loopy turn in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’… And it's enough to redeem ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico,’ a film that delivers no shortage of thrills and humor but ultimately amounts to far less than the sum of its parts." --Calvin Wilson, Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

"…a complicated, schizophrenic film with dull spots and bright spots; places that are too fast and others too slow…‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ moves with uncanny cool; it has a strange lukewarm energy that most Hollywood action films lack. Most of this rests on Johnny Depp, with his second picture-saving performance of the year. Depp plays CIA agent Sands, who is so inherently uncool with his offensively unfunny t-shirts and his stale dialogue that he comes full circle into cool again. In one scene, he does a dead-on Marlon Brando impersonation for no discernable reason but to entertain us." --Jeffrey M. Anderson, San Francisco Examiner