Movie Review – Machete Kills
– Summary –
Director : Robert Rodriguez
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, Jessica Alba, Carlos Estevez, William Sadler, Sofia Vergara, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror.
Approx Running Time : 102 Minutes
Synopsis: Ex Mexican Federale Machete is called into action after the plans of an insane businessman threaten to destroy the world.
What we think : Ludicrous, stylish sequel manages to deliver more of the same, only without the same fun. Danny Trejo is solid again, Mel Gibson is a riot, and a glut of cameo appearances brings a few smiles to the face, but on the whole Machete Kills misses the mark. If you enjoyed the original, I think you’ll feel a little let down by this one.
Machete don’t Tweet.
Robert Rodriguez’ foray into grind-house cinema continues unabated, with this, the sequel to 2010’s rip-roaring pulp schlocker, Machete. What began as a faux trailer at the beginning of Planet Terror, seems to have blossomed into its own meta-franchise, with Rodriguez apparently able to persuade any major (or minor) star to appear in this thing – the likes of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen (here, using his birth-name of Carlos Estevez), Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara, even pop star Lady Gaga, for goodness sake – peppering the story with what really amounts to glorified cameos. Machete’s down-n-dirty style, echoed by the Rodriguez/Tanrantino duology of Planet Terror and Death Proof as a starting point, is lost here, with a slicker veneer of Hollywood production values than previous grind-house entries, yet for all its ante-upping, Machete Kills remains firmly entrenched in that bloody, grimy, violence-soaked B-movie mantra, a factor which makes the film so darn entertaining. It’s one of those sub-genre’s you either like or don’t, and if you don’t then Machete Kills isn’t a film you’ll enjoy at all; if, however, you have a passing fancy for Rodriguez’ particular brand of guerrilla film-making, then the film will hit you right in the eye-patch.
Machete (Danny Trejo) is sent on a mission to Mexico by the US President (Carlos Estevez) to kill a crime boss named Mendez (Demian Bichir), who is threatening to fire a stolen nuclear missile at Washington DC. When he captures Medez, Machete learns that the man has hardwired the firing mechanism into his heart – meaning that if he dies, the missile launches. As Machete makes his way back to the US with Mendez, a bounty is put out on his head, meaning all manner of thugs and criminals come looking to collect. Eventually, Machete meets the evil Luthor Voss (Mel Gibson), a man with an utterly insane plan to destroy the world and rebuild humanity up in space. Along the way, he reteams with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), becomes an enemy of bordello madam Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), and is “handled” by beauty pageant entrant Blanca (Amber Heard).
Let’s face it: Machete Kills was never intended to be high art. Existing purely as salacious entertainment, riffing on the B-movie style from countless now-defunct Hollywood studios, Machete Kills blasts off from frame one and never lets up, its particular brand of black comedy and violence, most of which is hugely over-the-top, never ceasing amidst the innumerable camera zooms, scene changes and clenched-teeth dialogue. Nowhere here will you find some cathartic moment of enlightenment, and at no point does this film make a lick of sense, but there is sly, delicious fun to be had if you look hard enough. Bloody flows, bodies fly, explosions…. explode, and lead actor Danny Trejo, whose face looks like it was born of some volcanic eruption and hewn into existence by tectonic shattering, rumbles his way through yet another stone-faced cinematic performance. It’s all a load of codswallop, but Rodriguez’ sharp visual style and the film’s mighty cast all provide it with a sense of gleeful ridiculousness that cannot be overstated.
Machete Kills isn’t, however, a great film. It shouldn’t be, and it isn’t. Which is a great shame, really, because the original Machete was one out of the box. Machete Kills feels – like many sequels do – like Rodriguez and his cast are simply going through the motions. There’s energy, sure, and Rodriguez’s trademark directorial style, but the sly wink at the audience from the previous film here feels like we’re being asked to wink back. We get the joke, but the joke is getting stale, and Rodriguez isn’t able to come up with anything new. One could argue that the genre of film lauded by Machete Kills doesn’t deserve any kind of creative flow, since it is supposedly birthed from the Z-movie factories of old, but even for a modern audience, we need Machete Kills to go somewhere new. Was Machete’s one-joke concept only good for a single movie? Apparently so, for Machete Kills, once you get past the zany antics of all involved, feels tired and flat, a sequel as uninspired as it is uninspiring.
Rodriguez’ story is as pulp as ever, relying heavily on vague undercurrents of racism, crime and a sense of lawlessness that seems to preside over any of his films set in Mexico. Machete’s mission serves only to get our hero into predicaments through which he can carve a swathe with his multi-bladed weapon of choice – a machete, no less. Rodriguez gets the joke, and so do we, although Rodriguez seems more self-aware here than he did in the previous outing. Failing any kind of new direction for Machete, Rodriguez goes for broke shoving numerous Hollywood A-listers into the mix, hoping this kind of stunt-casting and “oh my God, they’re in this movie too?” moments will wallpaper over the cracks in the franchise’s strengths. Machete’s main draw was its spectacular cross-pollination of A-list drawcards and a B-movie aesthetic, and Machete Kills doesn’t stray from that path, yet the sequel feels like a much lesser film, even with everything working in its favor.
Danny Trejo has the acting range of a chunk of clay, but he’s surrounded by a cast far superior in performance than he. Trejo isn’t asked to perform Shakespeare, and he’s never given the freedom to “emote”, instead succumbing to the never-ending violence-porn action stuff Rodriguez wisely packs this film with. Trejo looks mean, talks tough, and delivers exactly all he’s able from a character so dimensionally challenged it’s a wonder Doctor Who hasn’t arrived to save the day, but the film is reliant on everyone else on the screen to drag the story forward in any way. Michelle Rodriguez is sexy-dirty as ever, Mel Gibson works himself into a lather as Luther Voz, and I was particularly pleased to see Charlie Sheen – ahem, Carlos Estevez having a sly dig at himself playing the President of the USA. Most of the cast are simple cameo roles, although Demian Bichir does a top job as the split-personality afflicted Mendez, and Sofia Vergara snarls her way through the flick as a misandrist bordello Madam, providing both sex appeal and antagonistic beauty for what is a limp story to begin with. This film doesn’t try for Academy Award contention in terms of acting, and the cast know it. This is a free run at being cool, being bloody, and being coarse, all within the protected environs of a Robert Rodriguez production.
Machete Kill’s low-budget thrills are evident in much of the film. The effects, from the digital gunfire to the multiple bullet-strikes, the CG blood and the “sunday afternoon” shooting style, give the film a grungy, half-cooked flavor that works in favor of the genre, and keeps Rodriguez’ expenses as low as possible. In any other kind of film, being able to spot CG blood or gunfire would pull you out of the story, ruin the illusion (remember the violent ending of the recent Rambo flick?) and give you a bit of a laff – here it’s almost expected, and that’s fun.The film’s visual style – lensed by Rodriguez – and editing – again, Rodriguez, with his sister Rebecca – is sound, and filled with the semi-desaturated tones the first film had. If anything, Machete Kills is almost too gritty, too grungy, to really enjoy. It serves its purpose, however. And is it just me, or is seeing the scantily clad body of Alexa Vega, the very same girl Rodriguez had as a child in those early Spy Kids movies, striding across the screen, now all boobs and body, just a little uncomfortable?
Machete Kills indicates that more sequels are on the way (they are, actually), although one suspects Rodriguez might want to spend a little more time on his story and pruning back the roster of characters to give us a tighter, less extravagant film than this. While the film essentially does exactly what the first did, only louder and with more inanity, there’s a distinct lack of… heart?… to Machete Kills that robs it of its sting. It’s good in places, and there’s more than enough moments to make you cringe and laugh at the same time (an intestinal hookline into rotating helicopter blades is a particularly inventive death scene) but that flat, motionless feeling of been-there, done-that sameness minimizes whatever energy Rodriguez manages to wind up. Even the cop-out ending, paving the way for the obviously inevitable sequel, leaves the viewer feeling cheated. Machete Kills is typically bloody, certainly cool lookin’, but ultimately remains a lesser sequel even in spite of its insane premise and execution.
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