Machete Kills (2013) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Marko Zaror, Carlos Estevez (Charlie Sheen), Sofia Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, William Sadler, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Alexa Vega, Tom Savini, Jessica Alba
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Kyle Ward
Review published October 15, 2013
It seems that the main objective of this Machete sequel, Machete Kills, is similar to the first, which is to continuously up the amount of over-the-top ridiculousness to absurd proportions and hope that this equates to high entertainment in an exploitative setting. Alas, after the surprise enjoyment that was Robert Rodriguez's (Sin City, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) first full-length Machete effort, this one feels like stale leftovers. Armed with an intriguing cast of actors who amount to a bit of a novelty, Rodriguez ups the self-aware comedic quotient to near Mel Brooks-ian proportions, but momentum falters throughout.
Machete Kills' plot involves Machete (Trejo, Predators) recruited by the President of the United States (Sheen, Scary Movie 5) to try to save Washington from destruction by stopping a plot to launch a pilfered missile linked to the heartbeat of a Mexican drug lord (Bichir, The Heat) -- if his heart stops, the missile launches. Mel Gibson (Signs, What Women Want) stars as the billionaire tech CEO and arms dealer who may have more of a story behind him than he appears.
Machete Kills is scripted by first-timer Kyle Ward, based on a story by Rodriguez, who came up with the plotline along with his brother Marcel. Though the premise once started as a typical grindhouse endeavor, dubbed by Rodriguez himself as Mex-ploitation, the nefarious plot from a criminal mastermind out to destroy the world seems to spoof James Bond films more than anything, with a music-video-style intro that further begs comparisons. In order to facilitate some of the small roles and cameos, Rodriguez contrives of a rubber-masked, super-assassin character called La Camaleon (aka,'The Chamelon"), whose actors portraying him/her change several times during the course of the film.
This R-rated excursion will likely please those who snicker whenever the jokey scenes are punctuated by another no-name character getting murdered for little apparent reason. Thugs' arms, legs, and heads are chopped up by blades of helicopters and boat engines, and Rodriguez puts even more effort into coming up with hi-tech weaponry that includes a "Swiss Army" machete and a bra worn by Vergara (Four Brothers, Lords of Dogtown) that shoots out knives or bullets. While the film is inventive and energetic, without any rooting interest in the plights of these hyper-cartoonish characterizations, the only moments of interest come through the gimmick of seeing the cavalcade of small roles given to a motley crew of well-known character actors, as well as a few spoofs on, of all things, Star Wars.
Ironically, for a film that was borne from a mock trailer in 2007's Grindhouse, this is a full-length feature that probably shouldn't have been much more than a trailer, as, at nearly two hours in length, it is really just a collection of sporadically amusing moments amid a storyline that regurgitates a plethora of films Rodriguez has already made. In fact, if you've seen the Machete Kills trailer, you've already seen most of the best moments of the film already, leaving about 100 minutes of filler that fails to deliver but marginal goods. Despite the amount of second-tier stars in the film, who seem to appear mostly because they like working with Rodriguez, this is a film that feels too bright, digital, CGI-infused (especially all of the instances of blood) and full of green screens to still be considered an emulation of the old grindhouse classics of the 1970s.
While it's fun to see an inventive director and lively cast cut completely loose from conventions, without an interesting story to wrap all of this craziness around, Machete Kills gives us little to feel connected to other than the director's visual style from scene to scene. Trimming about 20 minutes of lulls could have made this mediocrity a bit snappier, though it doesn't overcome the fundamental problem regarding the lack of newness to the premise or nuance to the already-established characterizations that would necessitate a return to the familiar story.
At the beginning and end of the film, we see clips of the trailer for the next entry in the Machete saga, Machete Kills Again...In Space!, and while the first two films haven't exactly raked in the cash at the box office, given the relatively low budget of the production (reportedly, $20 million), and Rodriguez's ability to get interesting talent on board, we may see Trejo in a leather vest and pants for at least one more go-round.
©2013 Vince Leo