Robert Rodriguez, what happened here? You have had so much fun traveling up and down the exploitation genre path with “Machete” and “Planet Terror” (his segment from “Grindhouse”), and we got to share in that fun with you which was great. But with the sequel “Machete Kills,” the fun has now run out. Perhaps you have made this kind of film one too many times. It has its moments and quite the cast, but the whole endeavor lacks a certain spark and ends up feeling tired and worn down as a result. Like “Machete,” it ended up getting upstaged by its giddy trailer.
Danny Trejo returns as Machete Cortez who, at the movie’s start, is recruited by the US President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen… Oh excuse me, Carlos Estevez) to go after a madman revolutionary named Mendez (Demián Bichir) who has in his possession a heavy duty missile that can lay waste to Washington D.C. Machete’s travels take him to Mexico and back, and he meets a lot of familiar faces like Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) and Luz/Shé (Michelle Rodriguez) as well as some new ones like eccentric Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) whose future plans are not all that different from James Bond’s villain in “Moonraker.”
It’s great to see Trejo playing Machete again as he has that face which has life and experience written all over it and he owns this role in a way no one else can. But the big problem with “Machete Kills” is that it takes its main character far too seriously. The great fun of exploitation movies is that they never take their subject material all that seriously, and it’s the overacting and strange direction that makes them memorable even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. I expected Robert Rodriguez to send up this genre a lot more this time around, but he makes the Machete into a deeply tragic figure which succeeds in taking away from what could have been a really fun movie.
The other problem is that the action scenes feel a little empty. Perhaps it’s the fact that more than a dozen people get offed within the movie’s first ten minutes, and you know that many mores bodies will fall long before this film comes to its conclusion. Enemies are made to where you expect a hilariously nasty showdown where the villains get their bloody comeuppance, but when they do it ends feeling largely anticlimactic.
“Machete Kills” is one of those movies that mistakenly put all its best moments in its trailer. I loved watching the crazy ways Machete does away with his enemies in the coming attractions, but they don’t have the same kick when we seem them here. Robert Rodriguez tries to keep the story rolling by giving it twists and turns to where certain characters don’t stay around for too long, but keeping up with who’s who becomes exhausting after a while.
Bichir, who became known to us through his Oscar nominated performance in “A Better Life,” is fun to watch as a crime lord whose personality never stays in one place for very long. Sofia Vergara, who can make the word gonorrhea sound sexier than anyone else can, makes Madame Desdemona into a wonderfully twisted villain whose weapons are hard to find in other movies. Amber Heard makes for an utterly delectable Miss San Antonio and gives her role a lot of sass. It was also an inspired choice to have Charlie Sheen… I’m sorry, Carlos Estevez, play the President of the United States.
As for Walton Goggins, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Antonio Banderas … Well, you have to see the movie to find out who they play.
But one actor I really got a kick out of seeing in “Machete Kills” was Mel Gibson who ends up playing the movie’s chief villain, Luther Voz. This actually marks the first time Gibson has played a bad guy in any movie, and many will say this role fits him after all the crap he’s put himself through in the last few years. What I like about Gibson’s performance is that he’s one of the few people here who doesn’t take everything too seriously, and I kind of wished the other actors had followed his lead as well.
“Machete Kills” is bookended by a fake trailer for a movie that looks to be more ridiculously entertaining than this one. I would have rather watched that than see Rodriguez make the same movie all over again. The trailer also has a classic “cameo” from Justin Bieber. Seriously, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
I still have a lot of faith in Robert Rodriguez as he still can be an ingenious director, and he does have another “Sin City” movie coming out in the future. But at this point, I’m not sure I’m willing to sit through another one of these movies because the thrill of them is gone. “Machete Kills” has a great cast and some clever moments, but the inspired lunacy of its predecessor is sorely missing this time out.
* * out of * * * *
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