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


Desperado (1995)

Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) plunges headfirst into the dark border underworld when he follows a trail of blood to the last... [More]
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez

Tag Cloud

adventure reboot renewed TV shows Classic Film Mystery Marvel Television Trivia doctor who canceled TV shows Disney Plus transformers crime james bond football italian ABC Signature Spike CBS All Access BAFTA rt archives Baby Yoda emmy awards cults LGBTQ olympics Instagram Live directors Star Trek laika YouTube Red Amazon Prime AMC Pet Sematary HBO Go docuseries The CW Interview cartoon Chernobyl First Reviews spain SundanceTV nature Stephen King Pride Month Discovery Channel Amazon Prime Video superhero stand-up comedy Film Festival Tubi PaleyFest Masterpiece sitcom young adult 007 PBS war king kong San Diego Comic-Con Bravo jamie lee curtis 71st Emmy Awards spanish documentary godzilla feel good TLC Paramount based on movie Rom-Com dc NBA dogs Brie Larson Podcast mob zombie harry potter slashers boxoffice period drama screenings scary versus USA canceled television crime drama festival monster movies trailers Star Wars BET Awards teaser National Geographic Toys Image Comics latino Marvel Epix Schedule President biography indie TruTV Netflix prank 2015 anthology Universal Pictures WGN OWN mcc BBC Disney+ Disney Plus cancelled television NYCC CBS fast and furious social media space BET Animation 99% ABC 45 comic technology Mindy Kaling Shondaland Election true crime slasher Comics on TV Box Office blaxploitation Winter TV Fargo Comic-Con@Home 2021 worst movies Western fresh Esquire Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Heroines worst Sundance Now video lord of the rings BBC One Lucasfilm Warner Bros. spider-man WarnerMedia PlayStation The Walt Disney Company 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards stop motion cancelled TV shows franchise X-Men rotten movies we love Lionsgate wonder woman nfl Fantasy Tomatazos richard e. Grant suspense Black History Month robots Spectrum Originals MSNBC ID A&E marvel comics reviews video on demand Kids & Family Ellie Kemper singing competition crossover Video Games docudrama Cosplay TNT Disney streaming service Paramount Plus superman twilight Certified Fresh TCA Winter 2020 psycho Walt Disney Pictures popular Year in Review The Purge mockumentary criterion Turner Classic Movies sag awards movie Thanksgiving Ovation Exclusive Video Hollywood Foreign Press Association halloween parents streaming critic resources Marathons Quiz 4/20 First Look critics Superheroes saw thriller hidden camera composers ghosts Mudbound know your critic Premiere Dates 2018 comic book movies Pirates ABC Family Apple TV+ stoner Black Mirror Marvel Studios Music trophy Action binge spider-verse best live action El Rey universal monsters movies Lifetime spinoff FX on Hulu zero dark thirty Syfy Showtime American Society of Cinematographers cinemax Opinion Nat Geo dramedy Disney Channel kong Emmys CNN TV One royal family E3 Reality Competition scorecard romance rt labs pirates of the caribbean discovery GIFs Trophy Talk japanese 20th Century Fox Netflix Christmas movies justice league hispanic heritage month 93rd Oscars posters Sci-Fi Television Academy breaking bad Tarantino Legendary kids travel 2017 2020 YouTube Premium Reality comics The Walking Dead adaptation VOD remakes name the review nbcuniversal Hear Us Out concert science fiction revenge mission: impossible toy story Funimation Martial Arts Mary Poppins Returns Comedy Wes Anderson GLAAD vampires obituary Writers Guild of America Superheroe french IMDb TV OneApp screen actors guild TV witnail Best and Worst A24 Christmas Rocky Nominations dreamworks Watching Series Awards cars Calendar blockbusters Television Critics Association all-time Fox Searchlight medical drama Binge Guide independent debate IFC 2016 Arrowverse spanish language Women's History Month 79th Golden Globes Awards elevated horror Creative Arts Emmys genre natural history Dark Horse Comics unscripted crime thriller Hallmark Christmas movies ViacomCBS spy thriller Rock Teen kaiju joker series MTV LGBT miniseries films GoT Lifetime Christmas movies Apple TV Plus DGA sequel comedies SXSW theme song police drama Pacific Islander CW Seed archives rom-coms 2021 aapi Prime Video Emmy Nominations ITV Food Network free movies SDCC festivals Extras Anna Paquin VH1 legend AMC Plus Amazon blockbuster deadpool The Arrangement sopranos black green book Crackle TV movies TV Land Red Carpet Nickelodeon romantic comedy TIFF scary movies aliens Country Photos Elton John streaming movies child's play Valentine's Day black comedy Academy Awards scene in color international Turner classics hispanic Hallmark golden globes heist movie Logo RT21 Countdown cats new zealand political drama Broadway cancelled TV series The Academy Spring TV foreign Tokyo Olympics DC streaming service Pop animated halloween tv 90s New York Comic Con indiana jones Oscars strong female leads Columbia Pictures Infographic Tags: Comedy CMT dceu hist MCU Sundance japan jurassic park 73rd Emmy Awards Character Guide Sundance TV children's TV FOX Musical target biopic FXX talk show 21st Century Fox psychological thriller Super Bowl women Britbox HBO Ghostbusters Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Cartoon Network Apple Winners Freeform TCM Grammys cooking Set visit NBC Pop TV Crunchyroll Vudu 24 frames comic books Peacock HBO Max RT History YA TBS art house comiccon zombies casting HFPA Trailer game of thrones Amazon Studios golden globe awards diversity news south america 2019 new star wars movies vs. The Witch Sneak Peek APB historical drama Acorn TV supernatural facebook Endgame hollywood Mary poppins Captain marvel Sony Pictures cancelled chucky die hard BBC America E! high school Tumblr quibi DirecTV documentaries a nightmare on elm street Universal Biopics adenture venice VICE marvel cinematic universe Film Song of Ice and Fire YouTube Neflix Cannes king arthur game show tv talk boxing Pixar action-comedy anime batman gangster ratings leaderboard australia Holidays what to watch rotten telelvision Fall TV asian-american 1990s sequels sports Comedy Central Holiday See It Skip It Paramount Network comic book movie disaster werewolf serial killer Polls and Games FX TCA 2017 DC Comics History Summer Musicals dark rt labs critics edition Drama 72 Emmy Awards satire Awards Tour Rocketman toronto Shudder Fox News USA Network Horror Alien Disney DC Universe dexter TV renewals new york Mary Tyler Moore Adult Swim Travel Channel politics Avengers basketball razzies Starz book book adaptation Hulu ESPN cops finale mutant TCA Awards TCA Comic Book Family live event award winner IFC Films dragons christmas movies