Just before Machete Kills—Robert Rodriguez’s over-the-top sequel to his 2010 Mexploitation homage Machete—begins, there’s a parody ad for a prospective third film in the series: Machete Kills Again… in Space, which sends everyone’s favorite badass Federale (once again tersely played by Danny Trejo) into orbit to take the bad guys out. What seems like a brilliant gag turns out to be the impetus of Machete Kills, which feels designed to get us to the third and film and suffers as a result.
Not that the first Machete was high art to begin with. Beginning as a parody trailer for Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double bill B-movie project Grindhouse, it was expanded into a full length, with all the stretch marks showing. It was fun, but clunked between outrageous action and clumsy social commentary that was never Rodriguez’ strong suit. Here, the director makes it clear that he imagines Machete as a grindhouse TexMex James Bond – complete with devices handy enough to get out of a scrape and colorful villains hatching sci-fi schemes to take over the world.
It’s mostly a successful idea, except that it’s weakened by convoluted, one-damn-thing-after-the-next storytelling that feels like its being made up as it goes along. Machete is tasked by the president (amusingly essayed by Charlie Sheen, under his birth name Carlos Estevez) to retrieve a missile targeted at Washington by an ex-Mexican leader turned revolutionary named Mendez the Madman (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir). But Mendez has made it so he can’t be killed and thus our hero must run a gauntlet of killers and hitmen (and women) to get the missile disarmed – leading him to Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), a weapon’s manufacturer with big plans of his own.
It’s a joy to see Trejo reprise his taciturn, unstoppable, iconic hero, but one again he’s overshadowed by a rogues gallery played by Rodriguez’ usual offbeat cast (which here puts Lady Gaga and Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr in, shall we say, similar roles.) The supporting cast may be better than before: Amber Heard and Michelle Rodriguez are solid in underwritten roles (both actresses are comfortable with this kind of B-movie attitude) and cast standouts Gibson, Bichir and Sofia Vergara (as a vicious brothel owner) rip right into their roles. Bichir amusingly slides between manic and subdued; Vergara is a screeching delight; and Gibson, revitalized in a way he hasn’t been in a while, had fun as his Bond would-be villain.
Alas, this is an obviously cheap effort beset by terrible CG gore (bad prosthetic effects in a B-movie can be charming; not so much, ’90s computer game level consumer digital effects). Scripter Kyle Ward occasionally gives his actors juicy dialogue to bite into and amusingly parodies the political commentary of the first, but the sheer pileup of turnabouts and twists begins to grow exhausting. It’s fun to see Rodriguez play in his exploitation sandbox. But it would be nice if he starts to follow the lead of his compadre Tarantino and use his love of B movie tropes to make outrageous but real movies again, another Desperado or Sin City, rather than inconsequential, entertaining and intentionally schlocky efforts like this again. Fans will have fun, no doubt, but those of us who believe in Rodriguez’ talent will just have to wait for Sin City 2 next year.
Ed. Note – Here are some photos Johnny took of Robert Rodriguez, Danny Trejo, and Alexa Vega on the Fantastic Fest red carpet!