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MACHETE KILLS (2013) review

October 11, 2013

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written by: Robert Rodriguez and Marcel Rodriguez (story) and Kyle Ward (screenplay)

produced by: Sergei Bespalov, Aaron Kaufman, Iliana Nikolic, Alexander Rodnyansky, Robert Rodriguez & Rick Schwartz

directed by: Robert Rodriguez

rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content)

runtime: 108 min.

U.S. release date: October 11, 2013

 

Danny Trejo’s Machete character spawned from one of several in-joke trailers that preceded Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse”. By popular demand, Rodriguez released “Machete” in 2010, an over-the-top, ultra-violent action movie that emulated a grindhouse look and feel while leaning close to the edge of absurd (and incessant) comedy. Now, Rodriguez cranks his sequel, “Machete Kills” to eleven, blowing up the insane nonsense into the stratosphere (literally!), veering the indestructible Mexican superhero to Looney Toon territory, straying even further from its once gritty roots.

That’s just fine, because “Machete Kills” is infectious fun, primarily due to the serious delivery (no matter how hilarious the circumstance) of the craggy-faced Trejo, but also because the incorrigible Rodriguez is having so much fun swathing his own unapologetic path. Sure, much of the superfluous plot here is unnecessarily confusing and convoluted, but such a complaint is pointless in a movie like this. It is what it is.

After a hilariously bugnuts movie trailer for “Machete Kills Again…In Space!”, viewers will get the idea what kind of juvenile lunacy they have in store for them.

We then arrive in Arizona, at – where else? – the border of Mexico, where we find former Federale officer, Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) still partnered with Immigrations officer, Sartanna (Jessica Alba) as they find themselves caught in a crossfire between the cartel and some military goons. After dispensing some scumbags, Sartanna gets one in the head by some suit in a luchador mask after she stumbles upon a secret weapon.

That quick act of violence sets off Machete, because Rodriguez, who came up with the sequel’s story with his brother Marcel, know it’s best to keep Machete pissed off. That opening is followed by opening credits resembling the kind we’d find in a Bond film. No surprise, since this is Rodriguez creating his own mexploitation subgenre, while incorporating his love for the many film franchises he likely grew up watching.

Machete gets a call from President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, listed for the first time by his surname: Carlos Estevez), which saves his neck (literally) after getting in a jam with Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler). He’s flown to the White House where Rathcock tells him of a former revolutionary-turned-megalomaniac despot in Mexico named Mendez (Demián Bichir) who has a missile aimed at D.C. Rathcock wants Machete to take him out. Machete doesn’t care. Even after he’s offered U.S. citizenship and a cleared record, Machete still shows no interest. When Rathcock mentions Sartanna as a motivator, Machete gets pissed again and we’re back on track.  And so, we’re off….

 

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In Texas, Machete hooks up with his assigned liaison at a beauty pageant. She’s Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and you know this femme fatale is more than just eye candy. She’s the first of many Rodriguez female staples – keep ‘em hot, strong and volatile. (Get ready for a memorable 3D insertion during this meet-up). On his way to the border, Machete faces the wrath of a man-eating (literally, like everything here) brother owner, Desdemona (an outrageous Sofia Vergara, who teeters something close to awful) and her crew of killer hookers (including “Spy Kids” alum, Alexa Vega), while connecting with Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens) an important contact with ties to Mendez.

Once Machete tracks down Mendez the movie resorts back to the Bond stereotypes (as if the hot babes weren’t a reminder), or actually, more like a hard R-rated “Austin Powers” variation. Mendez is the over-the-top villain, killing henchmen with a crazed laugh and employing an unstoppable towering enforcer (Marko Zaror). He’s also got a split-personality, switching back and forth from madman to freedom fighter and a device connected to his heart that is rigged to countdown that aforementioned missile.

So, there’s no new concepts here. So what? It’s still a blast to watch. Oscar nominee Bichir (“A Better Life”) is clearly having a good time hamming up both personalities here. But his is not the only outrageous character we meet. Machete makes his way back to America, with Mendez in tow, because that’s where the only person who can disarm the device is – and the storyline has to come back to the States. When word gets out though where Machete is, a price is put on his head and he’s soon being tracked down from everyone from Doakes, Desdemona and an assassin named Le Chameleon (played by Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas – you read that right).

Eventually, Machete comes face to face with the true villain, a crazed weapons manufacturer named Luthor Voz (an enthusiastic Mel Gibson, effective and loose) who plans to destroy the world after he escapes a space shuttle with a bunch of rich white people. Teaming with his old commando friend, Shé (Michelle Rodriguez) and her rag-tag army, Machete aims to take down Voz and his empire out of vengeance for Sartanna and just because he’s really pissed off.

 

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The screenplay by Kyle Ward isn’t offering “Machete Kills” any new concepts, it’s simply a script for a live-action cartoon. Rodriguez knows this and doesn’t care. Neither should you, knowing full well what kind of level of entertainment the filmmaker is aiming for. I definitely never would’ve thought that this Machete character, which spawned out of exploitation cinema and at the end of this film winds up feeling like a homemade sci-fi hybrid of “Star Wars”, “Moonraker” and “Logan’s Run”. While the first movie had intentional comedy, being introduced to such brazen gore and in-your-face violence was odd and somewhat off-putting.

Those new to the character may not notice how Rodriguez has increased the crazy here. At first, I was hoping for Machete to somehow return to a deeper grittiness, but I don’t know what I was thinking. This outlandish nonsense is more fun.

Although Rodriguez adopts a Kitchen Sink approach to the sequel, the draw is still Trejo, who despite being surrounded by some colorful characters and insane gimmicks, is front and center the main attraction. Those baggy eyes and world-weary attitude suit the character just fine and Trejo and Rodriguez know this, so by the end of the movie when we see Machete donning astronaut gear or wielding a laser machete, with Trejo’s deadpan delivery, the results are solid laughs. On that note, Gibson turns in a performance that hopefully reminds audiences of his propensity for madcap humor. (He actually reminded me of Val Kilmer’s similar turn in “MacGruber”, a movie which “Machete Kills” resembles). The movie could’ve stopped with Gibson’s clairvoyant Voz tooling around his lair being the wheel of a landspeeder, claiming he’s a “Star Wars” fan.  Next year, we’ll see Gibson play a villain in “The Expendables 3” which takes its testosterone more serious, but in the meantime we have this role with its goofy wardrobe, which he completed in one week.

The movie has its unnecessarily excessive and labored moments and Rodriguez kind of spoils the ending by alluding to its events in his opening, but none of that takes us away from the infectious fun. “Machete Kills” offers more of the same (decapitations, amputations and ripped entrails) as well as some new gags (bullet-loaded braziers and strap-on shotguns) and it looks like if we do see another sequel, Rodriguez will continue in this fashion. Good for him and even better for us. In a movie season full of predominately heavy, award-seeking dramas, it’s a relief to kick back with this mindless palette cleanser.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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