After the initial disappointment of the Sin City sequel’s release date being pushed back to next fall, I had a serious bone to pick with Robert Rodriguez. However, after seeing the next installment in the Machete trilogy, Machete Kills, it just erupted into a giant lady boner.
To understand, you should know that I judge action movies the same way that I judge the bacon cheeseburger from the general store in Sunshine, MD (a local abomination that stands in the way of health and building safety codes to deliver the greasiest and most satisfying ½ lb. burger this world has to offer). Every part of it is grilled with bacon grease until it melts and oozes, but it still holds together so that you can manage to ingest it. You don’t need one very often to satisfy those cravings, but every once in a while, it becomes necessary to bask in the glory of the sheer monstrosity of it.
That’s how I felt about most Rodriguez films and Machete Kills was no different. It was nearly two hours of high octane, over-the-top, bloody, sexy, gnarly pulp fiction. This film is a neo-exploitation geek’s wet dream. I mean, it has everything: militant prostitutes, explosions, strap-on dick guns, racist southwestern cops, armored cars, bizarre helicopter-related violence, cleavage, missiles being ridden a la Dr. Strangelove, minions being sliced in half, a 70’s porn soundtrack, Michelle Rodriguez’s freakin’ abs, a clone army, and a buttload of other Star Wars references.
The film starts with an old-school “Feature Presentation” loading screen, and then a trailer for the third installment of the Trilogy, Machete Kills Again… IN SPACE! Yes, that’s correct. Space. This trailer basically gives away the last thirty minutes of the current film, so watch closely for details. You get to see it again at the end of the movie.
The Premise (Contains SPOILERS)
Danny Trejo’s pockmarked face returns as leather vest-wearing, machete-toting Federale-turned-US-spy Machete Cortez. Machete is recruited by the US President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen) to stop Mexican revolutionary and schizophrenic psycho Mendez (Demián Bichir) from launching a missile at Washington, DC in exchange for US citizenship. The stoic Machete follows a mantra of recently murdered girlfriend and Immigration agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) to enforce justice, even when it’s not the law. Machete kidnaps the psychotic dual-personality revolutionary who has embedded the launch sequence start pad into his own heart to set it off in the event of his death. Now with a 24 hour time limit, Machete’s mission is to get him over the wall between the US and Mexico, fighting off the gun-toting babes of man-eating Desdemona’s brothel (Sofia Vergara’s boobs), face-changing assassin La/El Cameleon (played by Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, AND Antonio Banderas), as well as a slew of other would-be citizen assassins attempting to collect a bounty placed on Mendez’s head.
Once in the US, Machete’s plan is to find the maker of the missile device, Luther Voz, (Mel Gibson) head of a military technology corporation, and illegal arms dealer with a penchant for luchador masks. Voz apparently experiences premonitions after a dubious event called “the incident” (accompanied by a weird beeping noise), and has decided to make a new civilization in outer space by destroying the earth with excessive bombing. This is accompanied by a bizarre infusion of Star Wars homage and some particularly horrible blue lamé space suits. Meanwhile, Machete hooks up with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and her network of Mexican immigrants (including the Avellan sisters) to save the world from Voz’s evil plan.
The film gets convoluted through extraneous plot details at times, and seems to hinge greatly on the smorgasbord of cameo appearances, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. As promised, Machete Kills delivers nonstop, bloody fun and that really is all that matters about this film. It’s one big round of “what the fuck?” and “hell yes!” for me.
What Works Best
Machete Kills manages to avoid most of the sins that come with sequel films. When characters from the previous film show up, they have actual plot relevance rather then just “Oh, look who it is” appeal. Robert Rodriguez specifically chose not to include Machete’s Lindsay Lohan as April Booth, slutty senator’s daughter turned nun with a gun, for this reason, despite the popularity of the role. Jokes from the first film are only referenced about twice (Machete don’t tweet), which was exceptionally pleasant.
The film also benefits from the appearance of Amber Heard as Miss San Antonio, a pageant winner who acts as Machete’s handler. She’s delightfully cool, sultry, and ultimately in it for her own interests. Heard’s performance is a reminder of why she is slowly being poised as the next cult star, along with previous roles (zombie love interest, playboy bunny, scream queen). I look forward to more good things from her in the future.
Most interesting to me was continuity in the character of La/El Camaleon, played by four actors throughout the film. Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas maintain the speech idiosyncrasies of the character, proving for a cohesive performance despite their wildly different styles. It would have been easy to each actor portraying El/La Cameleon to do whatever they wanted with the character, but the thought behind this proves Rodriguez’ abilities as a director. It’s not as simple as it looks to orchestrate the perfect neo-exploitation film; it’s a combination of nonchalant bad-assery and carefully engineered randomness that make the film work.
Other highlights of the film include: multiple scenes of helicopter-related violence, including one where Machete uses a grappling hook to turn himself into a swinging blade to slice up some baddies; approximately 3-5 replays of Jessica Alba getting shot in the face, and Alexa Vega in leather chaps. Cool? Cool.
Where You Might be Let Down
The premise of the original Machete was a bad ass action film that played on virtually every Mexican stereotype in existence, set to the soundtrack of a porno from 1973. Machete Kills left the “Mexploitation” behind, and focused more on the action hero/spy aspect with gadgets and the whole space thing. If those jokes where what you valued about the first film, you might be disappointed as they are few and far between.
Rodriguez strays from him 35mm film aesthetic. There aren’t any continuity or editing errors. In most movies that would be a good thing, but part of what makes films like Planet Terror and Machete so good is the intentionally poor editing and graphics quality. They’re played for laughs and I was disappointed by the lack of them in Machete Kills. Not really a deal breaker, though.
In the beginning of this review, I likened Machete Kills to my lady boner. What I meant to say is it’s like a boner if you are practicing edging. The film is like really great sex, except you don’t get to finish. The build-up of insanity, violence, and babes with guns is fantastic, until the end, where we’re left behind as Voz moves the final battle to the final frontier. The audience is all revved up for a big climax that won’t come until Machete Kills Again…In Space!
Robert Rodriguez is a Star Wars fanboy. It is not subtle.
Charlie Sheen says winning. Ha.
Machete drives an armored car as he attempts to cross the US/Mexico wall and deflect bullets from assassins. On the back of the car is spray-painted the word “Chingon”. This is the name of Robert Rodriguez’s mariachi/ranchera/rock band, responsible for the soundtrack to this and several other of his films.
TLDR: Don’t have high expectations; Machete Kills is not a movie you see for crisp special effects and meaningful plot. If you liked the first Machete, or any other Rodriguez film, you will love this. If you like hot girls with guns, stupid-looking CGI explosions, or laughably excessive gore, you will love this film. It’s explosive, insane fun. Go see it and eat a bacon cheeseburger immediately before or after.