MACHETE KILLS Review

Remember six years ago when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino decided to team-up and create an epic production that once and for all would pay obvious tribute to their love of exploitation films? It was awesome, right? Both Planet Terror and Death Proof had their own style and story while effectively re-creating the tone and look of those seedy, unrestrained 1970's flicks that weren't mainstream enough for big studios. While the combination of the two features were released under the banner, Grindhouse, the mainstream still didn't seem to take as much of a liking to the project as it ultimately wasn't the box office hit the directors had become accustomed to. Still, no one lost any credibility on the project as it catered exactly to the kind of high concept work the two directors were known for innovating. One of the many highlights of Grindhouse though turned out to be the fake movie trailers that played before and inbetween the features and thus the world was introduced to Machete. I went back and re-watched that original trailer that played before Planet Terror as well as watching a good portion of that Rodriguez film which only came to re-enforce the overly-negative opinion I have concerning the follow-up to the 2010 full length version of Machete, Machete Kills. One of the bigger issues of the first Machete was the fact it frequently became exactly the thing it was parodying while the sequel does so in even bigger strides while no longer even looking like or seeming to attempt to actually become a part of the genre Rodriguez was originally so intent on paying tribute to. There is a fine line though between showing affection and making fun of, and while both Planet Terror and Death Proof were able to play up the elements of these exploitation flicks to modern audiences in the form of laughs they at least had the craft and quality down pat. Machete Kills is little more than a parody, a rushed job with a nonsensical script and stunt casting that is clearly intended to fulfill the entertainment quota. The base purpose of these homages is to have fun watching the ridiculousness unfold while laughing at the countless references and cinematic commentary, but unfortunately there is no such fun to be had here.

Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and her band of scantily-clad prostitutes.
While 2010's Machete essentially made good on the promise of the fake trailer enlisting the likes of Jessica Alba, Michele Rodriguez, and Robert DeNiro while the so-called stunt casting there would have been in the form of Don Johnson and Steven Seagal. Here, that kind of casting seems to make up for the reason the story goes the way it does. It is almost as if Rodriguez told his screenplay writer Kyle Ward who all he had enlisted to be in the film and Ward crafted a script around these actors that would allow them all to play a role while inevitably being so convoluted and overstuffed that trying to keep up with all the characters and plot pieces the audience becomes more concerned with keeping everything straight in their head than actually having a good time watching what is supposed to be mindless fun. What sense I could make of the story boils down to Machete (Danny Trejo, again providing zero charisma) losing his one true love or something like that, Sartana (Jessica Alba) giving him reason to take the assignment from the President (Charlie Sheen as Carlos Estevez) that has him going back down to Mexico to capture and kill madman revolutionary Mendez (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) who has strapped a bomb to his heart that will signal a nuclear war head to blast off for Washington D.C. should his heart stop. Of course Mendez kills one of the two men in the world who can disarm it and the other just so happens to be Victor Voz (Mel Gibson giving his first of what seems to be a slew of self-aware performances) an eccentric billionaire arms dealer who may or may not be the mastermind behind this whole thing. If this were all that was happening it might be fine and might allow for the scenes to play purely as parody without ever taking themselves seriously, but when you add in Sofia Vergara as a vengeance-fueled prostitute with her own scantily clad army (including Spy Kid Alexa Vega all grown up), a new love interest on the side that could be double crossing our titular hero, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) as well as Walton Goggins, Cub Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas showing up for no apparent reason it begins to go from indulgent comedy to pure sloppiness.

In that final word of the previous paragraph is where you can find the adjective that most accurately describes Machete Kills as a whole: sloppy. What I enjoyed about Grindhouse, but not so much Machete as I wasn't as thrilled with that final product as I'd hoped to be either, was the authenticity and attention to detail with which it was able to elicit the rawness and tone of the original films it was lifting from. The angles with which it was shot, the cinematography, the special effects, the soundtrack; it was all poured into a combined effort to make the movies feel as authentic as possible whereas with Machete Kills it looks like nothing more than a cheap knockoff that wasn't always intended to be cheap. When the zombie-like humanoids of Planet Terror would get shot or there was reason for blood to come exploding from within them it looked like practical effects without being top notch. There was a definitive line where it looked as real as they could make it with the resources they had while in Kills it is clearly post-production blood that looks like something you could add into a video with an app you just downloaded. There were little ticks and interesting facets like the missing reels or the amped up aesthetic per the bad voice synching and scratched film. There is none of this subtle charm to be found in Rodriguez's latest effort and what is more disappointing than anything is that it is pretty much a nearly two-hour bore. This is supposed to be an intentionally sleazy, very trashy action flick that goes beyond the tastelessness even of those fully knowing what it has to offer, but in the end this is all concept and little execution. I mean, sure, the casting of such intentionally wild personas as Sheen, Gibson and Gaga would have you expecting something over-the-top and extravagantly horrible, but the results don't yield to the expectations those names hold. We all know that Machete Kills is supposed to be a "bad" movie and that no one in their right mind would walk out if it regarding it as anything close to a quality movie, but what it is supposed to be is a wacky, almost screwball send up of  movies from yesteryear that made you laugh unintentionally but were nothing if not entertaining. That this fails to both be in on the joke with us and numbingly stale is a testament to how far Rodriguez has fallen from his starting point.

Machete (Danny Trejo) don't talk much.
We are now over twenty years out from Rodriguez's debut feature, El Mariachi, that put him on the map and even closer to that mark for Desperado which introduced him into the mainstream and placed his name in the company of people with like minds. Since then the guy has had a few hits, a few missteps, but more than anything he has shown his willingness to go back to the well over and over. Whether it be in deciding to make Once Upon a Time in Mexico, a movie I really enjoyed but probably didn't fully understand when I first saw it at the age of 16, or with his Spy Kids franchise that he has revisited one too many times in order to keep his output on the up and up. He will again do the same thing next year with the long-delayed sequel to Sin City and though I have high hopes for this film as I was a big fan of the first it seems Rodriguez is at his best when he comes up with something fresh and pours his heart and soul into it. That first Spy Kids, Sin City, and Planet Terror are all terrific examples of the specific genres or styles of filmmaking and storytelling he was attempting to convey in each respective project, but as they prove fruitful for him and he continues to pull from those successes he loses steam and unfortunately the creative drive that made those initial installments so much fun. I will admit, there are some aspects to Machete Kills that are ridiculously creative and those make aspects of the film work; the way Bichir embodies his character and presents his split personality is a highlight and the idea of a bipolar druglord with a bomb wired to his heartbeat is funny enough in itself. There are the ridiculous costumes that Gibson's Voz sports as well as his luchador masks that he likes to wear while toting a sci-fi ray gun that is "all galactical and shit," that make up for some of the missed opportunity, but the pool doesn't have enough water to tend the length of the garden and so we are left with tidbits of ideas that would have been great in a two-minute trailer but are stretched too thin in feature length format. People will again like to say that the fake trailer for Machete Kills Again...In Space that plays before the film (and essentially gives away the non-ending) will be awesome to see in actuality, but in all actuality the myth is likely best left unfulfilled because as we've seen with the first two films our minds idea will never match the literal execution of a former Mexican Federale who plays by his own rules.