Review: Machete Kills
Director: Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Sin City, Spy Kids, Planet Terror)
Writers: Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez
Screenplay: Kyle Ward
Producers: Alexander Rodnyansky, Robert Rodriguez, Rick Schwartz, Iliana Nikolic, Aaron Kaufman, Sergei Bespalov
Starring: Amber Heard, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, Lady Gaga, Sofía Vergara, Jessica Alba, Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Danny Trejo, Charlie Sheen, Antonio Banderas, Demian Bichir, Cuba Gooding Jr. … El Cameleón, William Sadler
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 105 min.
Robert Rodriguez started a joke.
I walked into Machete Kills moderately excited, but at the same time befuddled. How the hell did we get here? When the few who saw the fake Machete trailer in theaters as part of Grindhouse, everyone said “He needs to actually make that”. By the time Machete hit theaters in 2010 though, the interest in that aesthetic had certainly faded. Regardless it turned out to be arguably better than Rodriguez’s Planet Terror which allowed Machete to exist in the first place. The promise of more Machete films to come in the credits though, felt like a joke, that again, required instant gratification. Cut to 3 years later, and the modern grindhouse aesthetic has been so watered down by numerous lousy entries from lesser creators. With Machete Kills, Rodriguez continues to outshine his peers, but not by much. Machete Kills is a mess, a bloody enjoyable mess.
Machete Cortez was conceived as a low budget Shaft meets James Bond, and this sequel pretty much abandons the former and amps up on the Roger Moore era of the latter. Depending on your reference point of choice, you could say Rodriguez has pulled a Gremlins 2, or pulled a Crank: High Voltage. But I’d say he went and made an “Adult Swim” movie. See, Machete Kills has ADD, and if Danny Trejo as Machete was a 1-dimensional character before, well he’s some fraction of that now. There’s nothing at all new to say about him. He’s like a new “Slayer” or “AC/DC” album – no surprises; just more of what you want. He hacks people up with a variety of styles of machetes and is generally just there for everyone else to play off of. And he’s probably more comically indestructible than ever.
The original Machete had a political edge regarding immigration which has largely also been dropped in favor of a generic ‘save the world from a weirdo’ plot. Mel Gibson is that weirdo, a Star Wars-obsessed, eccentric billionaire CEO, and is a highlight of the film. Mel’s real life troubles/persona at no point overwhelm his screen presence, and he sinks his teeth into the part with gusto. He has to share so much screen time with a number of side characters though, which dull his overall effectiveness as a villain.
On the good guys side you have Michelle Rodriguez and her Revolution buddies returning and more often that not coming across as filler, as well as a brief return for Jessica Alba. You also have Charlie Sheen “debuting” here as Carlos Estevez, whose screen time (unlike Gibson) winks a bit too much for my liking regarding his recent exploits, as it’s just too cheap and now oh so very dated. He’s the President, has sex with many women, says “winning”, and loves drugs. Ha ha. On the bad guys side you have The Chameleon, a shapeshifting assassin played by multiple, well known actors and non-actors alike. You might be able to guess who they are with minimal research but it would be better off for your enjoyment to go in as cold as possible. Rounding out the group is Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara who gets some cheap laughs via recycled methods of mayhem from both Austin Powers and previous Rodriguez outings, and Demian Bichir, a madman whose focus largely bores and drags down the second act.
It’s hard to complain too much about an overstuffed cast in a movie like Machete Kills though. Without a satirical edge, Machete Kills is reduced to an endless series of bloody sight gags, explosions and funny line readings, so it works about as much as they keep them coming. The first and final acts have a solid hit/miss ratio, but the second act is where it attempts (and fails) at it’s weak story and really drags. As a whole though, for the good number of smile-inducing moments, there really is only so many times you can see dozens of guys with guns come from out of nowhere and shoot before it gets tedious.
While Machete Kills is more of the same in some ways and an even goofier departure in others, it becomes clear it’s going to double down on the goofiest aspects for yet another film which should close out the series. I won’t reveal what it has planned, but by what is teased it will either be the best Machete film yet, or an even bigger step down, but I certainly left with something to look forward to.