Machete Kills (United States/Russia, 2013)October 11, 2013
Machete Kills plays like a joke that's been told a few times too often. A lampoon of bad genre movies from the '60s and '70s with a '10s sensibility, the film is more like a collection of overcooked scenes than an actual narrative-based motion picture. The high points are worthwhile but the connective tissue is stale and vaporous. Those who love Robert Rodriguez's over-the-top Grindhouse-flavored spoofs will delight in this one but, ultimately, this is probably one Machete too many.
Machete is probably best consumed in small portions. Originally a fake trailer for Grindhouse, the character generated such appeal for Rodriguez that he eventually expanded that into a whole film. In retrospect, the 2007 trailer was more enjoyable than the 2010 feature. In Machete Kills, the best part is the fake trailer for an as-yet unmade third movie, Machete Kills Again…In Space! Machete Kills is, of course, a bad movie, but it's a bad movie by design. The first Machete has become a cult favorite, amassing a small, highly devoted following, and this has been made for them and only for them. With the possible exception of Quentin Tarantino, no one working in the film industry today knows Grindhouse better than Rodriguez and he mines it deeply with Machete Kills. He also regurgitates material from some of his own earlier films, like Sin City and Planet Terror. Grindhouse lovers will be able to identify dozens of references and non-Grindhouse viewers will recognize some of the more obvious nods, like those to Star Wars and Moonraker.
Machete Kills sends the grim-faced title character (played once again by the delightfully dour Danny Trejo, who doesn't crack a smile even once while on camera) into Mexico to apprehend insane drug cartel leader Mendez (Oscar nominee Demian Birchir) and bring him across the border into Texas. The mission is approved by the President (Golden Globe nominee Charlie Sheen) and his "handler" is Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard). It turns out the Mendez is actually just a front-man for the real bad guy, arms manufacturer Voz (Oscar winner Mel Gibson), who plans to trigger a nuclear war and retreat to a privately funded space station to ensure the survival of the species. While being pursued by a face-changing assassin (played at various times by Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Golden Globe nominee Antonio Banderas with a bizarre American accent) and with some help from old friend Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete does what he can to derail Voz's plans.
Although the storyline for Machete Kills isn't all that complicated (with the title representing a good two-word encapsulation), I found myself becoming lost because it does a lot of meandering. The chameleon assassin subplot is unnecessary and functions only as an opportunity to shoehorn some famous faces into the movie. The film has some great one-liners ("Put on Your 3-D Glasses!") and legitimately campy high points. There aren't enough to effectively fill out Machete Kills' 107-minute running length, but they would make for a wonderful highlight reel.
Danny Trejo does what Danny Trejo does best, which involves never changing his facial expression, growling one-liners about things Machete don't do, and decapitating and dismembering bad guys by the dozen. His partner from the first film, played by Jessica Alba, lasts about two minutes, and Michelle Rodriguez doesn't show up until late in the proceedings. Charlie Sheen gets some decent laughs as the President (he's credited using his birth name: "Introducing Carlos Estevez"), becoming the second member of his family to fill the role. Then there's Mel Gibson, who's delightful as the deliciously evil Voz. Playing a villain for the first time in his career, Gibson proves that, whatever his off-screen issues, he still has the power and charisma to command the camera's attention.
I suppose we're likely to get Machete Kills Again… in Space! if only because Rodriguez has promised it and he and his cast/crew enjoy making the films so much. For me, the trailer's enough. The joke is played out. When Rodriguez and Tarantino did their joint homage/parody of Grindhouse films in Grindhouse, it was good fun. Several pictures later, it has become repetitive. Rodriguez is too good a filmmaker to be stuck making these movies for the rest of his career. Machete Kills will amuse and entertain its core audience but for those who haven't been craving Trejo's return to the role, it's little more than a late-night cable TV distraction. Maybe Rodriguez would consider that a compliment and, for this kind of film, maybe it is.
Machete Kills (United States/Russia, 2013)
Cast: Danny Trejo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, Demian Bichir, Mel Gibson, Vanessa Hudgens
Screenplay: Kyle Ward
Cinematography: Robert Rodriguez
Music: Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel
U.S. Distributor: Open Road Films