Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Starring Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson, Amber Heard, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., Edward James Olmos, William Sadler, Tom Savini, Electra Avellán, Elise Avellán, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Marko Zaror. Written by Kyle Ward.
If there’s one reason to see Machete Kills, it’s Mel Gibson’s loopy performance as a cult leader and supervillain. Gibson, hamming it up in a rare villain role – completely over-the-top but still invested in the character in a way most of the other wink-wink performances aren’t – is a real blast, and Machete Kills really comes to life whenever he’s onscreen.
Unfortunately, he’s only in it for about 15-20 minutes. As far as the rest of the film…
Danny Trejo’s Machete does indeed do plenty of killing this time around, but the film packs no punch: it’s a lazy, relentlessly goofy ride that seems to be coasting along on concept alone. While fine in small doses – and Machete Kills has a number of highlights, many of which are spoiled in the film’s trailer – sitting through this 107-minute film is a shockingly dull affair.
As a sequel to a movie based on a fake trailer, the consensus seems to be that the joke has been played out. The riotous trailer was so popular it gave birth to a feature-length film, but no one seemed to be crying out for this sequel; this Machete offers up more of the same, but the material is no longer fresh, and audiences are tired of it.
I’m not so sure that’s the case: I’m convinced that the semi-serious schlock promised by that first trailer would make a perfect Grindhouse follow-up on the level of the original 2007 Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino double feature. Instead, these two Machete films are too self-aware: they self-consciously mock the genre material instead of reveling in it. If the filmmakers don’t care about their creation, why should we?
But the first one had one thing really going for it: in this midst of the goofball exploitation sleaze was an underlying theme of illegal immigration, a timely and relevant issue that gave the film a truly interesting dynamic.
This sequel, meanwhile, has none of that: it’s a routine action film that feels more like a James Bond outing than a Machete picture (the Bond connection is really underscored in the film’s opening fake-trailer, a Machete in Space sequel that recalls Moonraker). Without much else to grab hold of, Kills quickly devolves into a series of outlandish action sequences strung around a loose plot.
That plot involves the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen, who is “introduced” under his birth name, Carlos Estevez) recruiting Machete to take down Mexican revolutionary Mendez (Demian Bichir), who is threatening to launch nuclear missiles in the US. There’s just one problem: Mendez has the launch device wired to his heart. If it stops beating, the warheads take off.
The setup is pretty routine, but credit where credit is due: Kyle Ward’s script, from a story by the director and his brother Marcel Rodriguez, packs a whole lotta inventiveness into a familiar setting. Just when we think we know where this is going, the plot shifts gears to take us to somewhere else. This saves Kills from being a total drag.
So does Gibson, who’s a real riot here, while the rest of the supporting cast keeps things mildly interesting. Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez reprise their roles from the first film, while Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Vanessa Hudgens, and Alexa Vega provide some additional eye candy. Lady Gaga, Walton Goggins, Antonio Banderas, and Cuba Gooding Jr. star as The Chameleon, a bounty hunter who employs various disguises while on Machete’s trail.
But the goofy tone is relentless: everything about this film is a joke, making it impossible for us to get involved with the plot or the characters. And while Machete Kills has its share of laughs, the comedy isn’t enough to sustain the movie. Kills almost seems dialed down: the first film went further over-the-top, with more gruesome violence and gratuitous nudity. This one just feels lazy.
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