By David Sturm, Copyright 1996

'"I know who you are. You're the one you always hear stories about," says sultry Salma Hayek to el hunk Antonio Banderas in "Desperado."

This is one of the many tip-offs that "Desperado" is a cinematic tall tale, an outrageous campfire "lie" that revels in unbridled braggadocio and makes no concessions to logic.

Writer-director Robert Rodgriguez (who also produced and edited) sets the tone immediately by having funny-looking actor Steve Buscemi walk into a scuzzy bar in a Mexican village and relate a bloodthirsty tale of a gunfight he saw in another bar. The gunfight, which we see, has men getting shot and being propelled backward like they are attached to giant rubber bands.

Rodgriguez is just warming up. By the end of "Desperado," the audience has been treated to a firepower extravaganza that is from almost any standpoint preposterous. There's even a rocket-launching guitar case.

"Desperado" is a virtual remake of Rodriguez' legendarily low-budget "El Mariachi," which introduced the Mexican guitar player who becomes a one-man army and takes on a drug-dealer and his henchmen.

The big difference between "El Mariachi" and "Desperado," besides the expected Hollywood polish, is the presence of Banderas, who plays it all the way with an undercurrent of Irony. The camera practically caresses Banderas' craggy-but-winsome features.

It's intriguing that the movie, made by a Mexican and set in Mexico, has no interest at all in depicting landscape. This Mexican village may as well be--might in fact be--a Hollywood backlot. The exteriors are colorless, featureless, anonymous.

Among the assets of "Desperado" are the presence of Hayek as the girlfriend who matches Banderas drollery for drollery, a pointedly silly cameo by the ubiquitous Quentin Tarantino, a superb soundtrack that combines flamenco stomp with blues throb, and sharp action-movie editing.

The movie also includes the most au courant of action sequences, such as characters walking toward the camera paying no attention to a fiery explosion in back of them, two-handed shooting with guns tilted sideways and a bullet's-eye camera zoom into a screaming victim.

Those that like this sort of thing, as the saying goes, will find "Desperado" the sort of thing they like.

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