Picks and Pans Review: El Mariachi

updated 03/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gomez

That someone could make a good—let alone a commercial movie—for an anorexic $7,000 is as shocking a notion as a Hollywood agent who returns phone calls. But El Mariachi's 24-year-old producer-director-cowriter Robert Rodriguez has done exactly that. This is hardly to say that his film is without flaws. For example, the fact that all the scenes were shot by a single camera gives the movie an undeniably choppy quality. But such lapses can he forgiven in view of the movie's strong narrative drive and refreshing directness.

A comedy-adventure set in a Mexican border town—and filmed in Spanish, with English subtitles—El Mariachi centers on a singer-musician (Gallardo) who has an unfortunate sense of timing. Dressed in black and toting a guitar case, he comes on the scene at the same time as a vengeful thug who is also dressed in black and also carrying a guitar case (albeit one filled with an assortment of weapons).

Gallardo wants nothing more than to make music. Instead, caught in a case of mistaken identity, he must defend himself against competing bands of heavily armed men. He finds brief sanctuary—and love—when he is given refuge by a beautiful bar owner (Gomez), the former girlfriend of a drug kingpin (Peter Marquardt).

Now here's the $7,000 question: Would Hollywood have reacted so ardently (Columbia has signed Rodriguez to a two-year deal) if El Mariachi had had a bigger budget? The filmmaker has, perhaps, the best answer: "If I'd known so many people were going to see it," he has said, "I would have spent more money on it." (R)

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