By CALVIN PATTEN
Machete Kills is certainly an achievement, albeit an ignominious one. It mixes action, explosions, the cragged face of Danny Trejo, almost a dozen veritable stars and a seemingly unending parade of gorgeous, gun wielding women together into a boring, nonsensical action comedy film that is never able to capture the spark that made the previous Machete into a surprise minor hit. Directed by veteran film maker Robert Rodriguez, Machete Kills is based off of a movie trailer initially featured in the Grindhouse movie series and is a sequel to the 2010 Machete. Prominent character actor Danny Trejo portrays an ex-Mexican Federale, “Machete,” who is summoned by President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen) to stop a rogue Mexican guerilla fighter (Demian Bichir) from, obviously, blowing up Washinton D.C.
Along the way, Machete meets a potpourri of celebrities apparently each hired for a quick day or two of shooting (the entire movie was shot in just 29 days). Notably, Sofia Vergara portrays a misandrous brothel owner complete with a bullet-shooting brassiere in a role that she seemed to be regretting onscreen. Mel Gibson makes a shameless, extensive appearance as crooked arms dealer, futurist and psychic Luther Voz. Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Antonio Banderas all show up as different iterations of the same shape shifting, otherwise unexplained, assassin El Chameleon. Michelle Rodriguez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega and Amber Heard also feature in various roles, all of which require a minimum of clothing and dignity.
To be fair, Danny Trejo did put in a legitimate effort to bring some sort of joy to this absurdist mess. However, there is a reason that Trejo has traditionally appeared in supporting roles — he simply lacks the dynamic range to carry a movie. Coupled with superficial writing, his character is absolutely one dimensional. Early on, Machete snarls “Machete don’t tweet.” But what does Machete do? Some sign of life past obliterating enemies would be an important start to actually developing a movie, instead of what is quite literally an overextended trailer.
Being based in the grindhouse style of film, this movie aims for a certain amount of camp. However, it misses the target in that the characters are so flat and the action so overdone as to inspire apathy among viewers. What is at least amusing for the first few minutes of the film quickly becomes boring and frustrating. Without developing even a minimal interest in the characters, the corny and vulgar lines simply come off as pathetic and haphazard writing, designed to bludgeon and shock the viewer into submission. The action also fails to hit the mark, with every action movie cliché from the unlikely to the absurd to the dumb appearing. Death triggered bombs! Enemies with the aim of blind drunks! A machete that can become THREE MACHETES! A human being RIDING A ROCKET! There is no build up or climax, because the movie is simply two periods: either Trejo is killing people or Trejo is talking to people, preparing to kill them.
When considering how Machete Kills could have saved itself, it makes sense to compare the movie to the Fast and Furious franchise. Certainly, this franchise occurs on a much larger level, with Fast and Furious 6 enjoying a budget of $160M compared to Kills’ $20M budget. In many ways though the movies are similar — they are both relatively predictable, inherently corny, star and special effects-driven movies. However, F&F is able to develop characters and plot just enough to engage viewers on a level past the special effects and action sequences. In other words, it takes itself at least somewhat seriously. While I acknowledge that this may be contrary to the goal of Robert Rodriguez, it seems that if he wishes to build a successful Machete franchise (and it appears that he does, as Machete Kills includes a trailer for Machete Kills Again. . . In Space!) he needs to consider a change in approach, or at least seriously attempt to regain the energy that made the initial Machete at least watchable.
Ultimately, while Machete Kills did have a few legitimately funny sequences and lines, it was simply too much kitsch and not enough serious movie to grab and maintain the viewer’s interest. Lost somewhere among the gallons of spurted blood and dismembered humans was the spirit of a movie with the goal of being more than a mockery of itself. Early on, in reference to the legendary Machete, a character states “they say he doesn’t die sir — he been shot, stabbed, but never dies.” Unfortunately, Machete Kills, and specifically its motifs, can be described the same way.