Movie review: “Machete Kills”

machete kills

Machete Kills

dir. Robert Rodriguez

Release Date: Oct 11, 13

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Machete Kills, in the simplest and most accurate terms, is completely and utterly fucking crazy. Starting with a pre-credits sequence that allows director Robert Rodriguez to potentially wrap up the planned Machete trilogy before you’ve even seen its second installment, and through a series of increasingly bizarre plot twists that call into question how in the hell Rodriguez sold his A-to-Z-list cast on this movie, Machete Kills expands well beyond the realm of throwback exploitation and into those of parody and inspired lunacy. It’s not nearly as faithful to the era Rodriguez has long emulated as Machete was, but for the most part this is a good thing.

A man of few words, many women and ever more sharpened weapons, Machete (Danny Trejo) starts the film investigating a shady military faction that may or may not be dealing weapons to enemy countries. He and his steadfast partner (Jessica Alba) end up sabotaged by a legion of well-dressed mercenaries in luchador masks, and Machete is recruited by the federal government (led by President Charlie Sheen, or rather Carlos Estevez here) to hunt down the unstable Mendez (recent Oscar nominee Demian Bichir), a Mexican terrorist in possession of a nuclear missile that could kick off a global war. While trying to transport Mendez, who turns out to at once be a nobly revolutionary Jekyll and a bloodthirsty Hyde, Machete encounters a brothel full of gun-toting sexpots led by Sofia Vergara in a gatling gun bustier, a mysterious assassin by the name of La Cameleon (Lady Gaga), a sexy federal agent (Amber Heard) and Voz, an ambitious tech tycoon played in an inspired bit of stunt casting by Mel Gibson.

But enough of this plot, because there isn’t enough space in this review to capture everything that happens in Machete Kills. For better or worse, mostly depending on how sincerely you enjoy ‘70s trash cinema even for its faults, most of the dialogue in Machete Kills falls into one of two categories: wordy, overinformative exposition or the sort of hyper-vulgar Rodriguez one-liners that have made him a cult hero to film geeks the world over. Anytime people stop to chat (unless it’s the stoic Trejo, whose comic timing is once again impeccable), it’s only to get the film to its next burst of CGI-heavy madness. Machete Kills isn’t nearly as visually grimy as Machete was, which makes the film feel just a bit glossy for its throwback trappings, but the cleaner photography is the first hint that this is a different kind of film.

Perhaps the best point of comparison for Machete Kills is the recent Black Dynamite, a perennially underrated comedy that simultaneously sent up and paid homage to the craziest bits of exploitation cinema. Virtually every actor in Machete Kills turns the camp up to a nice 75, to varied returns; Heard is an excellent moll and makes a strong case for a future Bond Girl appearance, and Gibson finally gets to sink his teeth into something other than another sad retread of his pre-meltdown action vehicles. However, Sheen’s recent affection for shameless mugging once again rears its ugly head, and Bichir doesn’t get enough time to play anything more than a vaguely offensive cartoon. (His evil laugh, however, deserves its own special bit of acclaim.) The cast frequently comes and goes, and eventually the film starts to feel more like a series of gory vignettes than a cohesive whole.

At least as haphazard assemblages of celluloid go, Machete Kills understands well the value of escalation. By around 20 minutes into the film, there are CGI-aided bullet wounds, eviscerations by way of helicopter blades, machete deaths and all manner of other Grand Guignol festivities. And both narratively and in terms of the body count, this is the mere jumping-off point for Machete Kills into pure camp madness, with a finale that invokes Logan’s Run and involves an unkillable henchman straight out of a Connery-era Bond flick. This isn’t really throwback exploitation cinema, not in the way that the first film or Rodriguez’s Grindhouse contribution Planet Terror were, but it’s something that too few action movies are now: a hell of a lot of fun.