The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, August 26, 1995              TAG: 9508260056
TYPE: Movie Review 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   91 lines


IF YOU LAUGH through most of the uniquely entertaining ``Desperado,'' you'll have a great time.

If you don't. . . well, you just didn't get it.

There will be those who think ``Desperado'' is overly violent. There certainly is an unusually high body count - and enough gunfire to set off World War III. The cartoonish excess of it all, however, is hilarious when it is played in such a deadpan, ultra-serious manner. This is a unique spoof of the usual overly serious Westerns of our movies' past. With close-ups of sweating brows and intense eyes, it smacks of Sergio Leone's overwrought spaghetti Westerns, back when Clint Eastwood first got star billing.

The setting is a sleepy Mexican town where an ex-street musician (mariachi) shows up, bent upon revenge. He's looking for a bad guy named Bacho who was responsible for killing his sweetheart and ruining his musical career.

Roberto Rodriguez, one of the hottest of new, young directors made news when he filmed the el cheapo ``El Mariachi'' for just $7,000 two years ago. It looked like a home movie, but it was witty and drew attention. The little Spanish-language film made a hefty profit, and Hollywood fell all over itself to offer Rodriguez millions to do an English-language remake. Instead, he made a sequel - filmed in the same Mexican town but now with a star name - and lots more money for firearms. Rodriguez, author of the current book ``Rebel Without a Crew'' (chronicling his adventures filming ``El Mariachi''), has the same sense of humor as did Quentin Tarrantino in ``Pulp Fiction.'' If you can't laugh at excesses rather than just abhor them, best stay away.

The risk is dangerous. Not many people noticed the deadpan humor in ``The Quick and the Dead'' - a film that was written off rather than laughed off.

The star mariachi, and a striking new star he is, is Antonio Banderas, with flashing eyes and machismo to spare. Dressed in black, he handles a musical number that would be the envy of Elvis and promptly goes through some amazing action stunts. (It is usually obvious that he is not using a double as he falls backward off buildings and such). Any women who have not yet been won over by the Latin looks of Banderas will not be able to resist any longer (although this is a man's-man film and surely not a romance).

Delightfully humorous is his leading lady, Salma Hayek, who, believe it or not, runs a bookstore in the middle of this sleepy little town. (So much for the usual Western schoolmarm or saloon girl).

Hayek, who is reputed to be the first Mexican actress to get top Hollywood billing since Dolores Del Rio, seems to know that the movie is in fun and she handles Banderas with amazing restraint (although she does have a lone sexual scene in which he runs his spurs over her body).

Cheech Marin is the local bartender (commenting hopefully, ``The bartender never gets keeeled''). Steve Buscemi is, again (as in ``Reservoir Dogs'' and everything else), a smarmy lowlife weasel. The opening scene is one of the film's best, as he ambles into the local bar and spins mythical yarns about the awesome mariachi that is to come. (The idea of a street guitarist being a tough guy is a holdover from the first film).

Quentin Tarrantino, the now-famed director, has yet another cameo as a drug messenger who tells a (notably old) joke. It doesn't really work because Tarrantino seems more modern than anyone else. What can we do to persuade him to stay behind the camera, where he belongs?

Joaquim de Almeida (the villain in ``Clear and Present Danger'') was a last-minute replacement for the late Raul Julia. He's evil to the core, and most overwrought when he can't remember the number for the cellular telephone in his bullet-proof limousine.

Los Lobos' musical score is a cliche that matches all the other cliches, but in a spirited manner.

If you want plot, this isn't really your movie. When the action isn't going at full pace, which is seldom, there isn't anything to think about. For most moviegoers, this will be fine. ``Desperado'' delivers a stunning new star, Banderas, and action galore, all of it bathed in deadpan humor.

You get a lot of energy and entertainment for your money. ILLUSTRATION: COLUMBIA

From left, Albert Michel Jr., Antonio Banderas and Carlos Gallardo

are a dangerous pack of gun-toting vigilantes in ``Desperado.''



Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech

Marin, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino

Director and Writer: Robert Rodriguez

MPAA rating: R (gunplay galore, some language, one soft-core bit

of sexuality involving spurs)

Mal's rating: ***

Locations: Chesapeake Square, Greenbrier in Chesapeake, Janaf,

Main Gate in Norfolk, Kempsriver Crossing, Lynnhaven, R/C Columbus,

Surf-N-Sand in Virginia Beach

by CNB