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To no one's surprise but the producer's, Robert Rodriguez's bigger-budget spin-off/remake of (and occasional sequel to) his impressive action quickie El mariachi doesn't stand comparison with its predecessor. On the other hand, Rodriguez is clearly a talent to watch, and there's plenty to be entertained or impressed by here—fancy, violent action sequences (which gradually develop from barroom shoot-outs to outright war battles); a feisty interaction between hero (Antonio Banderas) and heroine (Salma Hayek) that suggests the influence of Howard Hawks; some enjoyable actorly bits by Cheech Marin, Quentin Tarantino (who's at least around long enough to tell a funny joke), and Steve Buscemi; an enjoyable villain (Joaquim de Almeida, not a gringo here as he was in El mariachi); a nice Mexican score by Los Lobos; and even a halfway tolerable twist in the plot. What's mainly missing is the sort of conviction and passion that gave El mariachi its charge; one feels at almost every moment that Rodriguez is fulfilling a contract rather than saying something he has to say. There's a lot of panache here, but not much inspiration.

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