Machete Kills is supposed to be bad, but it’s also supposed to be entertainingly dumb and loony – which is where it falls short.
Machete Kills picks up with ex-Mexican Federale Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his partner/lover Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), who are now working together by patrolling the U.S./Mexico border. The pair stumble upon a plot that involves members of the U.S. military selling a dangerous missile to a former Mexican drug cartel head-turned self-declared revolutionary, by the name of Mendez (Demian Bichir).
Machete, after suffering a tragic turn of events that almost results in his death, is then called to Washington, D.C. Once there, he is recruited by President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, credited under his real name, Carlos Estevez) on a mission to stop Mendez, who threatens to destroy the White House with his newfound missile. Assisted by the undercover agent/beauty pageant contestant known as Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), Machete returns to his home country in order to do what he does best: kill.
Machete Kills is the latest movie from one-man-band filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who co-wrote the screen story for the Machete sequel (with his brother, Marcel), in addition to serving as director, cinematographer, co-editor and co-composer. That said: if you thought that the original Machete feature – based on the three-minute faux-trailer from R. Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double-feature – was an example of what happens when a simple concept is stretched beyond its breaking point, then Machete Kills will test your patience even more.
Robert Rodriguez decided to embrace the inherent ridiculousness of the Machete universe in the sequel, which (on paper) reads as a better decision than continuing to emphasize the social/political commentary in his original “Mexploitation” film (a la the self-empowerment messages and political subversiveness of Blaxploitation). Problem is, Machete Kills isn’t smart in the way that it goes about parodying itself, nor is it really joyful in the way that it riffs on trashy cinema conventions. In short: this is easily among the silliest movies released this year, but unfortunately that doesn’t end up meaning it’s also one of the most fun.
Part of the problem is screenwriter Kyle Ward, whose script features surprisingly little in the way of cleverly violent gags, exciting action scenes, enjoyable character moments and ingenious satire/humor (note: Ward’s output here doesn’t bode well for his work on the postponed Kane & Lynch movie). The other guilty party is Rodriguez, whose shot composition and editing choices (the latter in collaboration with his sister, Rebecca Rodriguez) tend to be sloppy enough that it becomes a distraction. Not to mention, he skips on being playful with the many cheap-looking green screen backdrops and settings in the film, which begs the question as to how much the low-budget look (sometimes on a par with a Youtube video) was not intentional.
Similarly, a disappointingly small number of Machete Kills cast members do a good job either hamming it up or seeming like they’re having a blast in the movie. Trejo, whose age is more noticeable in this film, does his usual machismo act, but seems a bit tired in the eponymous role. The same is true to a lesser extent with Michelle Rodriguez back as Luz, while newcomers Bichir and Heard come off as trying too hard to feel like the sort of cartoonish people you’d expect to see in a schlocky B-movie (likewise, Sheen just lazily references his bad-boy public image in the film).
The standouts in Machete Kills include the La Camaleón character (played by Lady Gaga, among other actors) – who makes for a mildly amusing, if pointless, running joke – and Mel Gibson, laying on the cheese as eccentric technology manufacturer Luther Voz (who is in shockingly little of the movie) – and has fun while doing so. However, Sofia Vergara as Desdemona – the self-reliant brothel owner constantly flocked by her scantily-clad “girls” (including, former Spy Kids star Alexa Vega) – is pretty irritating, since her sole purpose is to screech and made unfunny jokes that involve weaponizing her cleavage (to word it delicately).
To sum it all up: yes, of course Machete Kills is supposed to be “bad,” but it’s also supposed to be entertainingly dumb and loony – which is where it falls short. The final movie result is harmless, yet mostly dull, rather than delightfully over the top or crass; even the promise of a more camp-tastic third Machete installment seems uninteresting by the time the second film reaches its conclusion (note: if you do choose to see the film in theaters, you might as well hang around until the credits are done rolling).
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for Machete Kills (fair warning: it features pretty much every good scene that’s in the sequel):
Machete Kills is now playing in theaters. It is 107 minutes long and Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content.