El Mariachi (1992)

Robert Rodriguez’s film debut was made for a measly $7,000, and it looks it. Don’t let its visibly low budget quality deter you however – this is a lively and inventive action movie. The story is well paced and compact: a lone mariachi guitar player wanders into a town and finds himself the victim of a case of mistaken identity, and becomes caught up in a drug cartel feud. He of course meets a woman along the way as well. Rodriguez, now well known for both his exploitation and zany kids pictures, throws everything he can (with his miniscule budget) at the wall visually. While this occasionally causes Mariachi to overwhelm, most of it sticks. It’s all very energetic and heartfelt and full of an anarchic excitement for moviemaking that rubs off on us. It makes me wish more action movies were made for so little.

If it falters slightly it is in that Rodriguez’s eyes may be a bit too big for his stomach. Although his inventiveness and creativity as a director do allow him to truly work around most, if not all, of his budgetary constraints, the picture’s aspirations as a romantic action movie do unavoidably cause the budget to show. Fortunately, this works, as its low quality adds a charming aspect and heightens the pulpy mood for which Rodriguez is now well known. If you can get past its B-rate technicals (elevated by Rodriguez’s A-list visual skill, I might add) El Mariachi delivers.

★★★ out of 5

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