Cast: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Hudgens, Demian Bichir, Alexa Vega, with Carlos Estevez and Mel Gibson
Written By: Kyle Ward
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
It’s quite the odd scenario when a film that features non-stop action and gratuitous violence manages to evoke boredom. For all the craziness that occurs in Machete Kills, the movie should be a whole lot of fun yet something just feels off. The fake Machete trailer featured in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-feature Grindhouse was borderline brilliant. This sequel’s predecessor successfully entertained in a tongue-in-cheek manner which slyly spoofed 70’s B-movies. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with Machete Kills as the approach and attitude are the same as with the other incarnations of the series, yet there’s a vital spark missing. Perhaps this one-note premise has run its course. Or maybe due to the fact that Machete Kills comes across like a darker, warped and unfunny version of an Austin Powers movie, this is just an uninspired installment.
The movie opens promisingly enough with yet another fake trailer for a future Machete movie which may or may not actually get made. The proposed third film in the franchise is entitled Machete Kills Again… In Space. It’s a fun sequence, though the prospect of an entire Machete movie being set in space seems better left for a fake 2 minute trailer. The scene which follows is even sort of ballsy, with a main character from the first movie being killed off prior to the opening credits. However, once the story kicks into gear and Machete sets off on his mission, the movie becomes a confused hodgepodge of over the top mayhem that is let down by weak storytelling.
After an arms dealer threatens to fire a missile aimed at Washington D.C. unless the U.S. government is able to rid Mexico of its drug cartels, the President of the United States calls upon Machete to take out the radical terrorist and his guerrilla army. Playing the POTUS is none other than Charlie Sheen (although in a nod to his Hispanic heritage, Sheen is billed by his birth name Carlos Estevez). In addition to Sheen as a womanizing President who uses phrases like “awesome” and “bad-ass”, the film is chockfull of stunt casting. The cameos aren’t as fun or surprising this time around as they were in the first film where the likes of Robert De Niro and Lindsay Lohan hammed it up. The most notable of these cameos is Mel Gibson as evil cult leader Luther Voz (more on him later). A character going by the name El Chamaleon serves as a hired gun seeking to take out a bounty on Machete’s head. The name El Chamaleón comes from his (or her) ability to change faces and personas. Walton Goggins starts out in this role but he soon materializes into Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonia Banderas, and Lady Gaga. This idea must have sounded great on paper but it isn’t effectively executed since there’s really no purpose for the character being in the movie.
Director Robert Rodriguez is a prolific filmmaker and clearly a movie buff who enjoys toying with genre conventions, but he is undeniably responsible for more bad movies than good ones. His winners include Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City and Grindhouse. His losers include… pretty much the rest of his résumé. The Machete series is getting dangerously close to following the trajectory of Rodriguez’s Spy Kids series. The first one was solid, but its three sequels were indifferent and unnecessary. Machete Kills is still better than any of the Spy Kids sequels, yet you can’t help but get the idea that Rodriguez is his own biggest fan; choosing to recycle his recurring characters and abruptly sequelizing as much material as he can.
Danny Trejo isn’t exactly a leading man in any conventional sense but the role of Machete is tailor-made for the rugged actor. Trejo gives the best performance he can with the script he has to work with. Mel Gibson on the other hand has hit a career low with his appearance as a campy evil mastermind. It’s sort of depressing to see a guy who was once one of the biggest movie stars in the world be diminished to a supporting role in a low-budget B-movie parody… even if he did bring his career unraveling onto himself.
What by all accounts should be a fun time at the movies, isn’t, and it’s difficult to articulate why. The ingredients are there but the taste is missing. Why are some dumb action movies great entertainment while others are drab and exhausting? Hard to say exactly, but Machete Kills is perhaps too dumb and unimaginative, all the while wearing out an already worn-out premise… so there’s a start.