The third of writer-director Robert Rodriguez's movies about a gun-toting mariachi player (and the second starring Banderas), Mexico is meant to be a pulp extravaganza. It's not all that different from El Mariachi (1992) or Desperado (1995)–the shoot-ups are comically over the top, with the gore dolloped out like guacamole–but the scale is grander. In what may be the knottiest story set under the baking Mexican sun since Traffic, Banderas comes gunning for a nemesis from his past, an outlaw who's simultaneously out to shoot down the country's president. The assassination is backed by a power-hungry master criminal (Dafoe).
The movie is fun, if uneven. Banderas, who could easily dominate this dusty epic with his campy machismo, spends much of the film on the sidelines, face hidden by a drape of hair. Hayek, as his wife, appears only in flashbacks. That leaves Mexico to be stolen by two americanos locos: Rourke, as an on-the-lam thug who carries around a Chihuahua as if it were a fashion accessory, and Depp as a mysterious CIA operative. Depp surveys the bloody mayhem with a perverse, disdainful cool. "Are you a Mexican," he asks a local, "or a Mexican't?" (R)