Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: Machete Kills


What started out as a joke has become a laughing stock of a franchise

At times I wonder if writer-director Robert Rodriguez is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His filmography thus far would leave credence to my assumption. Having hopscotched his way between family entertainment (the Spy Kids series) and outlandish adult action (the El Mariachi trilogy, Sin City), both types of films have turned his Troublemaker Studios into a lucrative venture. Adhering to the axiom of being fast, cheap, and out of control, that’s the best way to describe Rodriguez and his method of making movies.

Three years ago he co-directed the feature Machete, a grindhouse homage that was teased several years earlier in the form of a fake trailer with the release of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double-bill tribute to a specific subgenre of ‘70s movie-making. Their features, Planet Terror (Rodriguez’s) and Death Proof (Tarantino’s), varied in style and narrative, and overall enjoyment depends heavily on how familiar you are with grindhouse cinema. Rodriguez’s contribution was more enjoyed mainly because it plays more like a spoof, where Tarantino’s is considered worse mainly based on his cinematic output up until that point. Though, I’d wager that Death Proof is the truer embodiment of a grindhouse flick.

With Machete Kills, Rodriguez aims beyond grindhouse aesthetics and shoots for riffing on ‘80s action movies with campy action and campier villains. That sounds like it could be fun, but in the end Rodriguez delivers another uninspired movie that only works to please a certain portion of his fanbase. This isn’t like Nicholas Winding Refn’s taking a pulp novel like Drive and giving it some ‘80s neon pink flair. This is more like Rodriguez once again being self-indulgent and letting his imagination get the better of him.

As you might have guessed, Danny Trejo reprises his Machete character from the first film. Here he’s called upon by the President of the United States (none other than Charlie Sheen, introduced in the credits by his birth name, Carlos Estevez) to infiltrate a Mexican cartel whose leader is a former revolutionary (Demian Bichir, playing the part with such cartoonish bravado) that’s gone insane. Sounds simple enough for the machete-wielding one-man army, until a simple interrogation and kill if necessary assignment backfires. Instead of just dealing with a revolutionary, Machete must contend with arms dealer Voz (Mel Gibson). A visionary as well as a multi-billionaire warlord, Voz’s plan includes setting off a major world war while he and some rich white folks venture to space to start a new colony.

Overlooking the fact that Machete is deemed the only man who can save the United States of America, fans of the first Machete will revel in his exploits. Stuff like parachuting into Acapulco and shooting up and decapitating half of Mexico in the process. (If Will Smith and Martin Lawrence can invade Cuba in Bad Boys II, then it only makes sense for Danny Trejo to do the same to Mexico.) He also deals with super-soldier clones, heavily-armed prostitutes, and others looking to collect a 10 million-dollar bounty on his head.

Machete Kills is meant to be tongue-in-cheek in its depiction of violence, where audiences are supposed to laugh at the site of a man being disemboweled only to have his intestines be thrown in to a helicopter rotor. For me, much of the humor was derived from the casting. Too bad the large star-filled casting list was too big for a movie with a small scope. Besides those already mentioned the cast includes Walton Goggins (TV’s “The Shield”, “Justified”) as a bounty hunter who can change his face (translation: an easy way to include more recognizable celebrity faces!), Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara as a brothel madam, Spy Kids‘ Alexa Vega all grown up, and a few holdovers from the first Machete (Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tom Savini).

To some this may look like a casting coup – familiar faces part of a big ensemble. Yet, a cast is only as good as its script. Kyle Ward, who took Robert Rodriguez’s 40-page scriptment and made it into a full-length movie, gives us a plot that is more convoluted than it needed to be; where characters deliver monologues that have little to no meaning; and situations that don’t make a lick of sense. That’s the biggest problem with Rodriguez’s sequel (and the original Machete for that matter). What began as an idea on the set of Desperado became a joke with a faux trailer in front of Grindhouse. It works in short format but stretching the gimmick into 90-minute feature you see how much the gimmick wears thin. There’s only so many beheadings and dismemberments you can take. Rodriguez may proclaim El Mariachi and both Machete features to be Mexploitation movies, but here it seems like it is the audience being exploited. Yep, we all get screwed.

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writer(s): Kyle Ward
Notable Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Jessica Alba, Demian Bichir, Charlie Sheen, Walton Goggins, Sofia Vergara, Tom Savini, Alexa Vega, Amber Heard, Vanessa Hudgens

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