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Mexico magic at Venice

Venice, Aug. 28 (Reuters): El Mariachi — a guitar-toting gunslinger played by Antonio Banderas — took the Lido by storm today in Robert Rodriguez’s latest action epic, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

The south-of-the-border adventure staged its world premier at the 60th Venice Film Festival, pitting the melodic hero against Johnny Depp, a corrupt CIA agent, and Willem Dafoe, an evil drug baron, after the death of his sweetheart, Salma Hayek.

Moviegoers were transported back to the dusty streets of Mexico and over-the-top gunfights that put Rodriguez on the cinematic map before he more recently directed the Spy Kids series.

Depp dominates as Sands, the devious CIA agent who tries to control the fate of Mexico from a cell phone and alternates tacky tourist T-shirts with glitzy cowboy outfits. “It’s the first time I’ve ever asked at the end, ‘are you sure there’s nothing else we can shoot'’,” a scruffy-looking Depp said at a press conference in Venice. “I had a ball.”

Once Upon a Time, showing out of competition, is one of 145 titles that will screen in the lagoon city during the 11-day festival. Twenty films are vying for the prestigious Golden Lion, to be awarded on September 6.

With its exploding buses, kitschy dialogue and mind-boggling number of guitar-and-pistol tricks, the movie won applause from action fans but didn’t please all critics at its preview showing in the small hours today.

The one-liners also prompted lots of laughs. At one point the arrogant Sands demands of one of his henchmen: “Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can’t'”.

El Mariachi, a low-budget cult favourite shot in Spanish, catapulted Texan director Rodriguez to fame in 1992. It also won him Hollywood backing for the English-language sequel Desperado, starring Banderas and Hayek as his feisty girlfriend. Now Banderas is back and out for revenge in part three of the saga.

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