Once upon a Time in Mexico

Rodriguez has fashioned a romance without compromising his satire.

Two Westerns this year have me in revisionist heaven: Kevin Costner's "Open Range" is a faithful rendition of the old formula with modern sensibilities; Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" is a surrealistic Sergio-Leone turn on revolution, heroes, violence, revenge, and redemption.

"Mexico" is Rodriguez's third part of the trilogy that began with the low-budget and unknown actors of "El Mariachi" and ends with considerable production values ($30 million as opposed to $7,000) and Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Johnny Depp. The high-definition digital video of Mexico and camera work/cutting are sublime.

When Banderas and Hayek rappel from a tall apartment while chained together, I cannot think of another equally exciting escape this year. Rodriguez has fashioned a romance without compromising his satire--two gorgeous people flying high through love and the liberation of Mexico.

Rodriguez, engaging the mind and senses in high fashion, sends up "Wild Bunch," "The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly" and has fun with the genre (Here's an exchange between gunfighter legend Banderas and FBI agent Depp, who is trying to enlist him in supporting revolution: "So why me?" "Well frankly, because you've got nothing to live for."). In a sub theme he deals with the mess the U.S. usually gets into when it unsettles other countries.

The plot is too convoluted, and there is not enough of Salma Hayek, who appears only in flashback scenes although she has second billing. The body count is high and uncommonly void of blood, as if the multitasking director couldn't make up his mind between realism and symbolism.

If you want an unusual take on a well-told genre and a creative but cluttered homage to Sergio Leone, and if you loved Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean," gallop over to see a fine mess of a unique film.