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Josh Reviews Machete Kills

October 28th, 2013
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First of all, let me put your mind at ease.  I know you were all worried, but even though Machete Kills represents a dramatic expansion of the Machete mythos, I promise that you will be able to understand all of the film’s complexities even if you haven’t seen the first film.

Heh.

It’s pretty hard to believe that this silly, bloody, ridiculous, so-over-the-top-you-can’t-even-see-the-top-anymore movie actually exists.  Like Machete himself, the bad-ass Mexican who cannot be killed, this silly concept just won’t die and has somehow evolved from a jokey fake trailer into two full motion pictures with the promise of a third.

Machete began life as one of several fake trailers in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, a joyful (and vastly underrated) salute to the exploitation films they both grew up loving.  People responded so well to the trailer than Mr. Rodriguez decided to expand the concept into a full feature-length film: 2010’s Machete.  The film was a fascinating exercise in reverse-engineering a movie, because rather than starting from zero, Mr. Rodriguez decided to make Machete be the actual movie from which their fake trailer had theoretically been assembled.  Meaning that they created a narrative that stitched together all of the random crazy shots in the trailer, which had been created without ever intending for those shots to actually cohere into an real full-length movie’s story.  Machete was not exactly great cinema, but I found it to be a very fun romp, filled to overflowing with tongue-in-cheek mayhem, violence, and sexy girls.  (Click here for my review.)

And now, somehow, that film has spawned a sequel: Machete Kills.  Without the constraints of having to work backwards from a pre-exisiting trailer, Machete Kills is a more linear movie, without the all-over-the-place feel of its predecessor.  Which isn’t to say the film makes a single lick of sense.  The story gleefully defies any sort of logic or sanity, it’s just an unabashed excuse for Mr. Rodriguez to squeeze in all sorts of crazy action scenarios.  The film opens with Machete (Danny Trejo) and Sartana (Jessica Alba) on the trail of some evil-doers.  I was surprised to see Jessica Alba’s character in the film, as I sort of figured she’d be ignored in the sequel, because Machete works best as a loner.  Well, I wasn’t too far wrong, because the bust goes bad and, yadda yadda yadda, spoiler alert, pretty soon Machete is a lone wolf once again.  But he’s quickly roped back into action, when the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen, amusingly credited in the film as Carlos Estevez) assigns him to track down a Mexican revolutionary threatening to launch a missile at Washington.  Machete quickly finds the revolutionary, Mendez (Demian Bechir), but can’t kill him because Mendez has the detonator to the bomb wired into his heart, so if he dies, the bomb will go off.  Machete tries to get him back to the US, but he is miles from the border with every hit-man in Mexico descending upon him, because Mendez put a bounty on his head.  I can’t really explain any of this, because if Mendez wants to get killed so the bomb will go off (which we see repeatedly — him trying to get killed by one of these hit-men, but Machete saving him) I don’t know why he bothered wiring the detonator to his heart, when he could have just set off a regular detonator at any time.  Whatever, eventually Machete winds up back in the US confronting the super-villain behind the plot: the wealthy arms-dealer Voz (Mel Gibson), who, James Bond style, shows Machete around his lair and explains his whole scheme, attempting to convince Machete to join him in his villainous plot.  When he fails, tries to kill Machete while he undertakes his doomsday scenario.

But really, none of what I just wrote is all that important.  Machete Kills is all about crazy action and loony bad guys and gorgeous girls.  There is a lot of blood and guts in the film — quite a lot of people get chopped up by Machete’s machetes, and folks get run over, shot, sliced up by helicopter blades, there’s another intestines gag (which I think is a reference to one of my favorite crazy moments from the first Machete), and lots more.  We get some great, scenery-chewing performances out of the various villains that Machete has to mow his way through.  William Sadler is fantastic as a good ol’ boy redneck sheriff who tries to hang Machete.  (Bad idea.)  Then there’s Mel Gibson, brilliantly cast in the role of Voz.  The revelations over the past few years about Mr. Gibson’s personal life and what seems to me to be his poisonous anti-semitism have made me totally disinterested in ever watching (or re-watching) a Mel Gibson movie again.  But Mr. Rodriguez sort of channels those feelings in making Mr. Gibson the slimy villain, whole also performing some career-resuscitation by giving Mr. Gibson such a juicy role.  I must admit he’s pretty great in the movie.  As for the women, well, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara, Lady Gaga, and a whole host of other women (including Alex Vega — Spy Kids’ Carmen all grown up) are all over this movie, looking absolutely gorgeous.  Michelle Rodriguez is the only one of them who has anything approaching an actual character to play, and that’s mostly a credit to everything that Ms. Rodriguez brings to a thinly-written role.  She’s really stupendous, and once again, she sports the most awesome costume in the film.  (Though Alexa Vega’s get-up, or lack thereof, runs a close second.  Robert Rodriguez is a very dirty man.)  I am often critical of action movies in which the women are nothing more than thinly-sketched caricatures, but it’s hard to be upset at Machete Kills because that is clearly the point — the movie is imitating the sorts of B-movies where this was exactly the case.  Also, none of the women in Machete Kills are wallflowers.  Quite the opposite — every single one of them is a tough, ass-kicking babe.  I’ll take that over the damsel-in-distress any day.

The real stand-out performer of Machete Kills is Demian Bechir as the insane, multiple-personality Mexican revolutionary-turned-madman Mendez.  Mr. Bechir is absolutely hysterical, totally dominating every single scene he’s in.  In the first movie, I always felt that the Machete character worked best alone, and each one of the characters he was temporarily paired up with in the story seemed out of place next to Danny Trejo’s scowling visage.  (Hence my comment in the above plot synopsis about how quickly Machete ended up a loner again at the start of this film.  Having a girl side-kick just didn’t feel right for the character to me, and apparently the filmmakers agreed.)  But I loved the pairing of Machete and Mendez in the film’s first half.  This bickering odd couple were terrific, and I was surprised by how much I loved watching the characters played off of one another.  I really missed Mr. Bechir’s presence in the film’s second half.

I have already made the comparison to James Bond movies above, and I’ll repeat that here.  The film’s second half jumps fully into James Bond territory.  In fact, it’s a common feature of the Bond films (particularly in the Roger Moore era) that the second half of the film doesn’t have all that much to do with the first half, and that’s very much the case with Machete Kills.  The film’s story takes a sharp left-hand turn at the half-way point and suddenly the rich, suave, smooth-talking Vox, played by Mel Gibson, becomes Machete’s main adversary.  Unfortunately, I was a little less interested in the film’s second half than I was in the first.  It could be that while it’s certainly funny to see Machete in a sci-fi environment (and very much an aspect of the out-there exploitation films Mr. Rodriguez is homaging/imitating), the character is better suited to the Texas/Mexico setting of the first half.  It could also be that, as was the case with the first film, after about an hour, the over-all joke of the film and the Machete character began to get a little old.  But things picked up towards the end, as the pieces began falling into place for the cliffhanger ending promised by the film’s opening.

Oh yes, the film’s opening.  I wrote above that Machete Kills opens with Machete and Sartana on the trail of some bad-guys.  That’s not really the case.  Actually, before that sequence, the film opens with a spectacularly goofy trailer for Machete Kills Again… in Space, a hilarious trailer that puts Machete in a totally sci-fi scenario, wearing a space-suit, dodging lasers, and battling bad-guys on an orbiting space-station.  That could just have been a one-off joke, but in the film’s second half we see the story heading in that sci-fi direction, and in the end Machete Kills ends on an Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger (someone even gets frozen in a Carbonite-like substance!) that promises a third, outer-space-set Machete adventure to come.  That absolutely insane, wacky ending is my favorite part of the film.  I love its manic ridiculousness.

I don’t have much more to say about Machete Kills.  This is a big dumb movie, but it’s one carefully designed to be exactly that.  Either you’re interested in that joke, or you’re not.  Personally, I loved it in all its goofy craziness.  Bring on Machete Kills Again…in Space!!

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