The spirit of Sergio Leone lives in Robert Rodriguez's ambitious second sequel to his micro-budget EL MARIACHI (1991). Here the mariachi with no name (Antonio Banderas) is enmeshed in a plot to kill Mexico's president (Pedro Armendariz). Since the deaths of his beloved Carolina (Salma Hayek) — who metamorphoses in flashback from DESPERADO's small-town bookworm to an ass-kicking hellion whose heart the mariachi stole from vicious General Marquez (Gerardo Virgil) — and their child, El Mariachi has retreated into self-imposed seclusion. Marquez now works for drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe) and is spearheading the presidential assassination plot. Deeply dirty CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) enlists the aid of mercenary thug Cucoy (Danny Trejo) to press-gang El Mariachi — El, they call him — into a plot to prevent Marquez from assuming power once the president is dead. Sands simultaneously manipulates retired FBI agent Jorge (Ruben Blades) into going after Barillo and his sidekick, Dr. Guevera (Miguel Couturier), who murdered Jorge's partner. Jorge decides that the weak link in Barillo's organization is fugitive American goon Billy (Mickey Rourke), who's never without a Chihuahua tucked into the crook of his arm. Sands is also conspiring with beautiful Mexican federal agent Ajedrez (Eva Mendes), whose enthusiasm for law enforcement has curdled into corruption after years of being passed over because she's a woman. El Mariachi in turn recruits the help of fellow gun-slinging musicians Lorenzo (singer Enrique Iglesias) and Fideo (Marco Leonardi) — who knew so many mariachi singers had flame throwers and machine guns built into their guitar cases? Bullets fly, traitors betray their accomplices and are in turn betrayed, and Sands, his eyes gouged out by one of his many crooked confederates, becomes a blind gunman led by a child (Tony Valdes) — a conceit worthy of the most grotesque Italian Western. If not quite a one-man show, Rodriguez's mini-epic is something close to it — he wrote, directed, produced, scored, edited ("chopped," in his parlance), designed the production and did many of the special effects. Fortunately he resisted the temptation to star, since Banderas inhabits the role of the mariachi with a feral grace undiminished by the seven-year gap between films. Hayek makes the most of what is essentially a long cameo role (her prominent credit notwithstanding), and the supporting players (heavy on cult favorites) revel in their small but juicy parts — even Rourke's Chihuahua is a runny-eyed scene stealer.