Mark Reviews Movies

Machete Kills


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Carlos Estevez, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler

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

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 10/11/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 10, 2013

Machete Kills drops the politics of its predecessor, which is a good thing. It's not because those politics were wrong; it's because, by the time the movie was released, the debate over immigration in this country had reached a level of self-parody that meant the movie's attempts to satirize its targets reflected reality far too closely to actually work as satire. Such is the sad state of affairs in the political climate of the United States, which now too readily accepts the extremes as legitimate points of view worth discussing instead of being worthy of mockery or outright dismissal.

The franchise, which promises a third entry before the movie proper even begins, has abandoned the politics, so we must also in discussing the movie. Without the pressure of trying to make a legitimate piece of exploitation cinema out of what started off as a joke trailer, it's clear that director/cinematographer/co-editor/co-composer Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter Kyle Ward don't give a damn—in a good way. There's a level of freedom here that makes the sequel a better, more imaginative effort than the original.

Ward's screenplay understands something that the first movie did not, and that is that the eponymous hero is not particularly interesting. He's a man defined entirely by brutal action and few words, most of them negatives (For example, we learn here that he doesn't smoke, tweet, or joke, but he has made one exception to his no-texting rule). The character is a one-off joke, and no matter how tough Danny Trejo's scowl may be as the character, it doesn't change that Machete's appeal has run out of steam. Perhaps that was even the case in the first movie.

Instead, Machete takes the backseat (something that he would probably add to the list of things he doesn't do) to a cast of crazies—sometimes literally. The first movie was overloaded with supporting characters, but they were nowhere near as strange and occasionally invigorating as they are here. We can easily forgive the movie's tendency to stockpile the oddities when they are so definitively odd. It's actually admirable that Ward is unafraid to kill off certain characters or shift the actor playing one particular role. There's a level of confidence that, for every character or actor eliminated from the picture, there will be another that makes up for the loss.

The plot begins with Machete discovering a missile and losing perhaps the only woman he's ever loved in an operation to stop a rogue group of soldiers from selling military weapons to a notorious Mexican drug cartel. Machete, now without any loyalties, is saved from a murderous sheriff (William Sadler) who still prefers to consider himself a vigilante by a call from the President of the United States (Carlos Estevez, or, as he is better known, Charlie Sheen, getting an "introducing" credit for the new moniker). The President needs Machete to stop a missile that is aimed at Washington, D.C. Our hero grudgingly accepts.

The basics of the plot point to a stronger, more focused narrative than the hero previously received. The movie turns into a tacky, loving homage to spy movies—the bloodiest outing James Bond never had—complete with wacky villains, their impossibly extravagant lairs (One is an ancient pyramid sitting atop a plateau, and the other is a sterile workshop where the bad guy develops weapons and other devices based on his love of science-fiction movies), and sexy women in revealing outfits (The sexism inherent in that element starts to become an issue when we start to notice that the women appear visibly uncomfortable in the getups).

The villains are where the movie really shines. One is Mendez (Demian Bichir), a spy-turned-killer-turned-revolutionary who suffers from multiple personality disorder, meaning he can and does change from one of those personas to the next without any warning. The killer is the one who's aimed the missile at the U.S. and connected the launch sequence to the beating of his heart. This puts the revolutionary in a bit of a bind, because he's willing to kill himself in order to stop the killer inside him, but that, of course, would cause some problems.

Speaking of multiple people, there's the Chameleon—the movie's most clever invention—a mysterious assassin without a face who is played by an assortment of disparate actors (It says something about the casting that the role can originate with the great character actor Walt Goggins and become more interesting with each new incarnation). There's also Sofía Vergara, playing a brothel owner with anatomically correct and incorrect guns hidden in her clothing. Rounding out the bevy of baddies is Voz (Mel Gibson), an arms manufacturer with big plans to take to space. He's also psychic for no apparent reason other than that it gives him a strange, amusing quirk.

For all of the newfound imagination and genre-nudging wit in Machete Kills, though, the movie still relies far too heavily on over-the-top violence that quickly grows repetitive—multiple decapitations, one disemboweling, and two times in which a henchman is towed into the rotors of a helicopter—and a collection of other characters, including Machete himself, who are essentially expendable. It's a step in the right direction, at least, and the trailer for the third movie at the start of this one suggests an even bigger step into absurdity.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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