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Opinion By Ted Baldwin

ARCHIVED REVIEW







Desperado

Reviewed: 9/21/95

The accolades are pouring for Desperado, a small film that probably owes as much for its popularity to the current wave of cultural diversity (read separatism?) as it does to biker films, spaghetti westerns, and splatter flicks.

Despite all of that, I really like this film, and find it refreshing that such cartoon violence is getting good reviews from other critics.

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FIVE POSSIBLE

     I, possessed of a small and petty mind, dared judge Desperado by its trailer, and sought it not.

     Forced into switching theaters one late afternoon by a friend who could not tolerate "Lord of Illusions", I found myself in Desperado, thinking "whoa, horsie! this is truly a "Pulp Fiction" with spurs. A dude-ranch of a vengeance flick ensconced in old me-he-co. Really sexy action cool!"

     It is outrageously funny, from the initial el-kabonging of a hoodlum in a nightclub to its inconceivable love-a-thon to its apocalypse-in-the-street with suitcases from wetback hell. But SEXY ACTION COOL? Please. Desperado is not quite where The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West left off, but it shows promise for the western loner genre for the first time in years. And a western it is.

     Set in small town Mexico, Desperado has gunslinging, outlaws, barrooms and brawls, sleazy barkeeps, hidden rooms, vengeance quests and horsepower. Not only that, but stereotypes abound, which gets us to the "I, member-of-group" can call me that but "You, not-member-of-group" better be careful smile-when-ya-say-that-stranger regulation.

     Are Hispanically corrects applauding Desperado simply due to the origins of the director and cast? Or is that an impression simply created through marketing hype to cash in on America's racist guilt trip?

     Desperado is so successful for what it is, I cannot imagine them not lauding it bandwagon style, but the film is also similar in detail to films blasted for their negatively stereotyped characters (Anyone old enough to remember "stinkin' badges" or the "Frito Bandito"?) that I am surprised it hasn't been targeted for mass burnings.

     Desperado's independent origins are in "El Mariachi", directed by Rodriguez for 7 (best money he ever spent) grand. "El Mariachi's" salsa peppered panache encouraged this studio version, but whatever Desperado is, it is not an independent or "small" film.

     Despite the appearances and hype-ola to the contrary, Desperado is a major effort, with solid industry support. Antonio "Bloodsucker" Banderas, Cheech "& Chong" Marin, Quentin "Oscar Speech" Tarantino, and a host of others put a lot of firepower into the film. Which means also it has an immediate press interest. What other 7 million dollar film got all of the talk shows to tie into it this year? You'd think Desperado was Magnificent Seven, Montezuma and The Alamo all wrapped into one for the press it got.

     But anyone in this business for 25 minutes knows nothing is ever really what it seems. Why do so many people believe Hollywood - the mother of all snake-oil salespersons? Hollywood marketing is ruthless people, mo' money, wall street and other people's money throwing momma from a train. Subliminal, superliminal and just plain obvious.

     Technically, Desperado is full of special effects, such as explosions, fireballs and muzzleflashes. Reputedly, much of the budget went into those pyrotechnics. Tho its pacing is uneven, the majority of the piece is fast and furious - called MTV-ish by some desperate for a comparison. As a professional editor, it felt right to me.

     The costumes and sets feel right, and the script is fairly tight, but it had a little of the old Miami Vice aroma. I would have added a few twists to make it zingier, but the flick is enjoyable as is, cliches and all.

      Without the hype, and perhaps a better trailer, I think Desperado would have fared as well. It is fun, fast, and bodes well for Rodriguez's next efforts.

      What does production and success of a film like this mean for the Third Coast production environ, tho? I think it means that an independent film from the Gulf won't have a rat's ass chance in hell of a similar reception. Without interest from a significant subset of entrenched Hollywooders and the right marketing plays,and/or substance, fine acting, and intelligent visualization, you'll end up as only a footnote in the latest Movies On TV guide.

      But who cares what Hollywood thinks or how many stars and lines Desperado will get from Leonard Maltin in 2015?

     Ignore the positioning and reception Desperado's supporters have achieved, see it for the good film it is, and concentrate your own efforts on character development, performance, riveting imagery and compelling storytelling. Even if you don't go stratospheric, you'll have achieved a new level in your craft.

There is always room and appreciation for quality.

SIDEBAR

"Twelve Steps to Generate a Sleeper Crossover Independent Megahit Small Little Picture That Everyone Has To See"

     One aspect of the biz is to create a "sleeper" hit. This avenue of remuneration depends on the public believing that Hollywood Promoters don't know what they've got, that the public has discovered\defined a hit without "hype", and that even though the studios aren't advertising it, [this film] has such good word-of-mouth that everyone has to see it!
     How many films carry the banner "sleeper hit of the year" in their ads?
  • Ah, must be another in the "sleeper genre"!
  • Make people think its a sleeper, and they'll see it!
  • HEY! WHAT A GREAT IDEA!
     You'd think Ross Perot was in charge of publicity. Here's how to do it, grassrooters.
  • 1. Pick a story that has action, revenge, and sex, but no messy substance. (Disaffection, youth and trendy political thought including valid and invalid world views are good script crutches if you are interestingly challenged).
  • 2. Pick a heretofore unheralded minority (sorry, drag Queens already have Too, Too Wong Foo and Priscilla, and the Chinese have Jackie Chan, but there's no good Native American showing yet, or Eskimo for that matter. Maybe the Coushattas can score here). Check for "That's Our Story" rallying potential.
  • 3. Pick a location that defies understanding, such as Bourbon Street, LSU, or Denny's.
  • 4. Populate the film with local characters, or really famous actors in cameos, or allude to them.
  • 5. Explain publicly how the picture has its origins in credit- card financing, how the girlfriend of the director stole all of the sound reels, or make something else up to authentify the unprofessional\shoestring against-all-odds nature of the production.
  • 6. Publicly detail difficulties in production to make the locale of the picture come alive - bad water, rain, typhoons, rickets, alligators up to your etc.
  • 7. Make the main actors\producers seem more human through tales of parking ticket hell, food peculiarities, or prostitution arrests, especially when tabloids are involved.
  • 8. Add really cool renegade-rebel out of the mainstream music to the production. Spend your last penny to procure a song that everyone knows and seems significant to the picture, but don't worry about if it is.
  • 9. Pretend you don't care what Hollywood thinks.
  • 10. Pretend you don't care what the public thinks, but poll continuously to make sure they think you are cool.
  • 11. Fight strenuously for a Director's Cut, even though you shot 1 to 1.
  • 12. Make the talk shows looking frumpy, out of kilter, or just plain bad hair day. Stay up for several nights before taping to emphasize your naturally raccooned eyes, and play off perky host with your disaffected hip to accentuate the desirability of spending 6 bucks and ninety seven minutes immersed in your total idea of cool.
  • 13. If the Rolling Stone hasn't already come on board, seduce, woo, inebreize, hyp-mo-tyze or co-opt some reviewer to wildly praise the film with words like cool, action, and sexy, and invest in some half-point type to print his\her\its name.
  • 14. Always colorize inside the lines.
If the above doesn't work, you could betray the system, pull a soderberg, and create something of substance from honest hard work, real relationships, and perfection of your craft that people would want to see...
This was the last (unpublished) review I wrote in 1995 before a long hiatus, and the production work on Gutter Punks. I lived the sidebar in the three years to come, without even remembering I wrote this.... Prophetic. Sigh. Amusing, isn't it?