Hear Us Out

Hear Us Out: Robert Rodriguez's Desperado Is A Perfect Shot of Bloody, Funny, Star-Making Action

Twenty five years later, Rodriguez's bullet-riddled sophomore effort is still a gonzo action extravaganza that showcases his directorial style and makes the most of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

by | August 25, 2020 | Comments

Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas in Desperado

(Photo by Rico Torres/©Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

When Robert Rodriguez burst onto the independent movie scene at the Sundance Film Festival with his scrappy low-budget genre debut El Mariachi, he instantly made a name for himself. Touting his film’s extraordinarily small budget of $7,000 –– raised mostly from the director subjecting himself to medical testing –– Rodriguez established himself as a resourceful filmmaker, detailing his process in his book Rebel Without a Crew, now considered a film school classic. If El Mariachi proved what Rodriguez could do with a meager budget and a cast of mostly friends, what more could he accomplish if he had fancy pyrotechnics, large sets, and professional actors?

The answer was Desperado, a better-funded follow-up to El Mariachi that built on the mythology of a mysterious guitar player with a music case full of guns and ammunition. It was a big step up from his previous four-figure budget: Desperado cost around $7 million, or 1,000 times more than the cost of his first feature. Fortunately, audiences flocked to Desperado and helped establish Rodriguez as an exciting new filmmaker with ideas for offbeat movies like the Spy Kids series, a love of genre that influenced films like From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete, and an eye for action that shaped movies like Sin City and Alita: Battle Angel.

Although Desperado met with mixed reviews on its release 25 years ago on August 25, 1995, there’s still a lot to enjoy from Rodriguez’s sophomore effort. It’s a movie that promises explosion-laden spectacle, choreographed gun battles, visual humor, and Antonio Banderas playing guitar — and it delivers on all fronts.


It Shows Off Robert Rodriguez’s Playful Style

Antonio Banderas in Desperado

(Photo by Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Whether it’s a deadly gunfight that ends in a tense draw over empty pistols, or a throwaway gag that forces the movie’s heroine to wear two mismatching heels through its explosive climax, Rodriguez, who both wrote and directed the film, has an eye for visual humor. Desperado never takes itself too seriously despite all of its violence and explosions, as Rodriguez incorporates punchlines in both subtle and overt ways. Sometimes, the effect is achieved with a simple sign that reads “Members and Non Members Only.” Other times, it’s as obvious as a ceiling fan that continues to smack a dead bad guy in the face after he’s down; only when El Mariachi (Banderas) shoots the fan does it actually stop.

Another aspect of Rodriguez’s visual style is his unabashed love of spilling fake blood. A handful of deaths occur off-screen, announced by splatters of bright red that splash across other characters —  a tip of the hat to ’70s horror and spaghetti western classics that, in their time, used shocking amounts of gore to thrill audiences. Sometimes, though, blood is used more subtly, as when a wounded El Mariachi leans on a wall and leaves a crimson trail behind him as he brushes against it. It shows the audience he’s wounded, still mortal even though it seems no one can kill him, and in the next scene, still capable of fighting back faster than any unfortunate soul who tries to pull a gun on him. Whether it’s the tint of fake blood, the rouge undertones of certain buildings, or the burning intensity of an explosion, the color red plays an important role in the look of Desperado.


It Introduced Salma Hayek to a Broader Audience

Prior to her role as Carolina, the badass bookshop owner-turned-love interest of El Mariachi, Salma Hayek was mostly known for her work on television and a few movie roles, including one in Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca. Anders would work alongside Rodriguez on Four Rooms, which came out the same year as Desperado, but for the most part, Hayek’s star was still on the rise when she went toe-to-toe with the much more established Banderas. She thrives in the role, bringing sympathy to a character caught in the crossfire of a war that has nothing to do with her. Hayek portrays Carolina as a business woman willing to do whatever it takes to keep her struggling shop afloat, capable enough to throw off the suspicions of drug lord Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), and smart and courageous enough to save the hero’s life by surgically removing a bullet and suturing his wound. Plus, who can forget the iconic shot of Hayek and Banderas coolly walking away from a giant fireball?


It Turned Antonio Banderas into an Action Star

Banderas exudes star power and charisma from the moment he walks on-screen. While it may be most evident in the aforementioned slow-mo walk away from the explosion with Hayek, his unshakable bravado is present in almost every frame. Stepping out of the shadows for his first bar fight, he makes an imposing impression from the get-go, yet one that changes as the audience learns more about him. He’s not a cold-blooded killer like his enemies, as he looks after a guitar-carrying kid caught in the town’s drug trade. He’s capable of being vulnerable, funny, and flirty with Carolina, quickly initiating a romance just hours after they meet. And in the face of danger, he’s an impossible and unstoppable force, with Banderas (and his stunt team) quickly moving through the paces of intense fight choreography like pros. At the time, Banderas was perhaps best known to U.S. viewers for his roles as a love interest in movies like Philadelphia and Interview with the Vampire, but Desperado helped Banderas step out into a new light, one that later led him to make movies like The Mask of Zorro (and its sequel), The 13th Warrior, the Spy Kids franchise, Haywire, and The Expendables 3,  among others. Both Banderas and Hayek would also reprise their roles in 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico.


The Cast Is Full of Faces You’ll Recognize

Desperado features a number of cameos, like Steve Buscemi, who introduces the legend of El Mariachi to a bar full of nervous listeners. Another face you may recognize is Quentin Tarantino’s as a loudmouthed delivery man who meets a gruesome end. With a shared love of exploitation B-movies, Rodriguez and Tarantino would later work together on an ambitious double feature, Grindhouse, as an homage to the era and contribute shorts to Four Rooms with Anders. A number of soon-to-be Rodriguez regulars also trace their collaborations back to Desperado, including Cheech Marin, who would go on to play Uncle Felix in Rodriguez’s Spy Kids, and a short-haired Danny Trejo, whose appearance in Desperado as a deadly, knife-wielding assassin seems to be the basis for his evolution into his most famous character, Machete. Carlos Gallardo, the original El Mariachi from Rodriguez’s debut, also appears as one of the other musicians with a case full of weapons in time for a big showdown.


Los Lobos Delivers an Award-Winning Soundtrack

Antonio Banderas in Desperado

(Photo by Everett Collection)

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Chicano rock band Los Lobos was one of the most famous Spanish-language groups to break into the mainstream. Fashioning a sound that melded rock and blues with traditional Mexican music like cumbia and norteño, Los Lobos was fresh, unique, and exciting. Their chart-topping 1987 cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” for the movie of the same name put them on airwaves across the world, and when it came time for Rodriguez to pick the music to accompany his gun-toting musician on his quest for vengeance, there was no better choice.

Los Lobos added guitar-fueled segues that propel the action forward, making every fight scene feel more epic in scope, and rooting the story in a Mexican-American soundscape, bringing to life the sounds of a border town where American tourists dip into sketchy dive bars run by a cartel. In an early scene, Banderas performs Los Lobos’ “Mariachi Suite,” which sets up his character’s story and who he’s going to face off against in the movie. That song later won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance, and it’s just one of the multiple ingredients that made Desperado such an enduring cult classic.


Desperado was released in U.S. theaters on August 25, 1995. It is available to rent or buy on FandangoNOW, Vudu, Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes

#1

Desperado (1995)
64%

#1
Adjusted Score: 66.33%
Critics Consensus: Desperado contains almost too much action and too little story to sustain interest, but Antonio Banderas proves a charismatic lead in Robert Rodriguez's inventive extravaganza.
Synopsis: The mysterious, guitar toting "El Mariachi" walks the streets again to avenge the death of his beloved girl friend in... [More]
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez

Tag Cloud

2018 Writers Guild of America MSNBC cults Lifetime halloween tv live action marvel cinematic universe ESPN rotten movies we love halloween HBO 2015 RT History all-time Tarantino BET finale pirates of the caribbean TCM Baby Yoda psychological thriller monster movies crime psycho FOX Cosplay Emmy Nominations Video Games Sundance critics Tomatazos war NBC Ovation Fantasy Netflix Chernobyl spider-man indiana jones Animation screenings Rock dc PlayStation indie Valentine's Day cartoon strong female leads Lifetime Christmas movies YouTube Premium facebook rotten Black Mirror diversity Polls and Games social media streaming movies satire comic books TCA Awards golden globe awards TNT Disney streaming service canceled king kong Bravo police drama Pirates dceu scene in color video on demand christmas movies worst movies festivals mission: impossible kaiju miniseries Hulu E! Superheroes Syfy stoner WarnerMedia foreign 007 Set visit die hard Adult Swim The Walking Dead Trophy Talk worst 45 National Geographic Holidays 24 frames Toys Trailer 2017 Photos chucky Vudu films TV award winner deadpool Elton John WGN technology transformers based on movie doctor who saw First Reviews venice know your critic Marvel Studios book franchise thriller child's play Arrowverse dramedy animated crime drama elevated horror American Society of Cinematographers DirecTV ABC Signature Avengers teaser international obituary FX on Hulu new star wars movies lord of the rings Sony Pictures criterion TV movies fast and furious Turner Classic Movies SDCC what to watch revenge Shondaland scorecard dogs Amazon Prime Spike dragons DC Comics HBO Max Sundance Now supernatural Reality spain Tumblr black Food Network See It Skip It comics Winners Pride Month toy story boxoffice cars new york MTV best Thanksgiving ABC IFC GLAAD tv talk Paramount Plus documentaries President heist movie name the review archives aliens CBS biography talk show Mary poppins Broadway festival singing competition Women's History Month The Arrangement spanish TruTV DC streaming service Infographic Mindy Kaling TV One Quiz streaming Sneak Peek trailers Reality Competition TIFF 2021 versus Disney Plus Character Guide Shudder Superheroe telelvision hist Action sequel Dark Horse Comics Black History Month Awards Winter TV target SundanceTV Horror cops romance APB cancelled TV shows Western new zealand YouTube Red Image Comics natural history jurassic park adaptation series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Rom-Com Fox News political drama The Academy cooking comiccon Pacific Islander Premiere Dates 2020 Hallmark Christmas movies Country parents TCA Winter 2020 Comedy Central cinemax Walt Disney Pictures Starz Travel Channel The Walt Disney Company reviews 99% Pop Year in Review Marvel Television medical drama Mary Poppins Returns GoT The Purge blaxploitation Crunchyroll crime thriller cancelled television superman Legendary Sundance TV Spectrum Originals Apple TV+ robots blockbusters Lionsgate reboot Cartoon Network Comic Book Apple TV Plus Rocky Schedule south america PBS SXSW Captain marvel game of thrones AMC ITV VH1 Red Carpet Teen Certified Fresh Alien ratings MCU a nightmare on elm street Trivia Mudbound historical drama unscripted Discovery Channel kong Watching Series Television Academy Mary Tyler Moore Acorn TV werewolf Star Wars true crime movies composers anthology Pet Sematary Lucasfilm canceled TV shows spanish language comedies Super Bowl 21st Century Fox serial killer docudrama CNN ABC Family Box Office Creative Arts Emmys high school DGA Universal NYCC RT21 USA asian-american The CW Family remakes El Rey Comics on TV sports FX latino CMT CBS All Access Rocketman TV renewals Film stop motion television mockumentary mutant Drama french Turner Fall TV TBS Hallmark Hear Us Out 72 Emmy Awards Stephen King Classic Film DC Universe spinoff Anna Paquin Martial Arts directors Interview breaking bad LGBTQ New York Comic Con harry potter ghosts Marathons Ghostbusters Marvel Nominations 2016 Esquire Biopics renewed TV shows PaleyFest Summer space golden globes vampires E3 theme song japanese Netflix Christmas movies Masterpiece Television Critics Association classics 20th Century Fox Epix GIFs dark zombies Film Festival Tubi witnail A24 travel children's TV science fiction First Look football Amazon Studios Columbia Pictures hidden camera Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Best and Worst Exclusive Video nbcuniversal VOD australia Pop TV Christmas Amazon Prime Video joker Disney universal monsters italian Oscars docuseries TLC binge Comedy screen actors guild 4/20 TV Land HBO Go nfl superhero Song of Ice and Fire james bond sitcom Mystery Freeform Awards Tour concert emmy awards zombie Endgame Cannes video crossover politics adventure prank X-Men boxing Kids & Family anime book adaptation Musical comic Calendar Extras Binge Guide news quibi fresh green book Logo OWN sag awards Crackle BBC America Apple justice league 93rd Oscars jamie lee curtis BET Awards cats TCA The Witch Musicals A&E romantic comedy CW Seed women Amazon Peacock Disney Channel Opinion VICE Election Music BAFTA independent OneApp 71st Emmy Awards BBC One godzilla scary movies Showtime Ellie Kemper LGBT aapi cancelled BBC Brie Larson stand-up comedy period drama Star Trek Funimation Sci-Fi spy thriller hispanic Countdown YA documentary Grammys Paramount Network TCA 2017 casting ViacomCBS slashers ID laika Britbox IFC Films richard e. Grant twilight razzies Pixar Spring TV Emmys zero dark thirty popular hollywood YouTube Holiday disaster Podcast rom-coms Nat Geo Fox Searchlight 2019 Disney+ Disney Plus cancelled TV series discovery sequels Nickelodeon 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Academy Awards Warner Bros. rt archives game show USA Network Paramount Heroines movie free movies blockbuster nature batman kids FXX toronto San Diego Comic-Con History