How would you like this review—straight up or with some flair?
Machete Kills is the second film of the Machete trilogy. Yes, trilogy. It’s a pet project of director Robert Rodriguez, who you might better recognize as the director/producer behind the Spy Kids movies, Grindhouse, Sin City, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Rodriguez is a lot like my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (who teamed up with him for Grindhouse), in that he has a campy, gory, easily recognizable style, and he usually includes homages to old Western movies. So, basically, you can already guess how ridiculous Machete Kills is (especially if you saw Machete). But we’ll save that discussion for the spoilers section below…
Here’s how Open Road describes the plot: “In Machete Kills, Danny Trejo returns as ex-Federale agent Machete, who is recruited by the President of the United States for a mission which would be impossible for any mortal man—he must take down a madman revolutionary and an eccentric billionaire arms dealer who has hatched a plan to spread war and anarchy across the planet.”
Let me say right off the bat that Machete Kills, while obnoxiously fun, is not nearly as good as Machete (and therein lies the problem with sequels). Where Machete felt like the “so bad that it’s good” campy parody of the Western (in this case, Mexican) lone gunslinger (in this case, machete-wielder), Machete Kills felt like the joke that just wasn’t as funny the second time around. Worse, that joke continues for 107 minutes when it really shouldn’t have gone over 75 minutes. Now, I think some of this “not as good” feeling has to do with the overabundance of cameos and the half-assed story (Seriously, what was the plot again?), but I think the bigger problem was that it seemed like Rodriguez just didn’t have his heart in this second film—and hello, it’s his freaking pet project.
This LA Times quote about how Rodriguez fails hits it on the nose EXACTLY: “Where Tarantino takes genre tropes, clichéd characters, and sketchy ideas and turns them inside out, upside down and wrings unexpected emotional resonance from what should be unworkable parts, Rodriguez, without Tarantino’s ear for dialogue or uncanny sense of structure, is rarely able to spin his stories into something more.” Basically, there’s a reason why Tarantino is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter and Rodriguez is not.
That being said, I love the regulars in the Machete films. Danny Trejo, who plays the title character, is hilarious. And he’s got to be like, what, almost 60, right? The man has only one look throughout this movie (Hint: pissed), and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Then, there’s Michelle Rodriguez, who plays Mexican revolutionary Luz. I love the pairing of Trejo and Rodriguez because they’re both action-movie actors who know that their acting strength is somewhat limited to playing the badass. Plus, Rodriguez is the only woman who can be half-naked and still convince me that she’s more of a dimensional character than the other male and female characters combined (but more on that in a moment). I would mention Jessica Alba here, as she reprised her role of Agent Sartana in this movie, but she literally dies within the first five minutes. Personally, I’m okay with that because Alba is terrible.
And then there are the cameos: Charlie Sheen (introduced as his birth name, Carlos Estevez), Demian Bichir, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, and Mel Gibson. Charlie Sheen played the U.S. president (which was a joke within itself). Demian Bichir played a double-agent turned Mexican revolutionary with split-personality disorder (which was creepy). Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Antonio Banderas all played the same assassin, La Chameleón, who, like a chameleon, removed each face after every kill (interesting, but again overabundance). Amber Heard played an undercover pageant queen working for Mel Gibson’s Voz (and she was just there to be T&A). Sofia Vergara was a man-eating bordello owner, who had a strap-on dick gun and a machine-gun bra (Yawn). Alexa Vega and Vanessa Hudgens played bordello girls (They seriously had no purpose in this movie). And Mel Gibson was pretty much Mel Gibson.
There are too many cameo actors fighting for screentime, and it’s not worth it. If I had to pick who would stay, I would say Demian Bichir and maybe the La Chameleón gang (just because that was interesting and Machete needs constant antagonism).
Now, here comes the real discussion: Robert Rodriguez and women. Besides Michelle Rodriguez’s Luz, the women in Robert Rodriguez movies are your typical schoolboy fantasies. They don’t have personality, they wear skimpy clothing, they’re all about sex, and they’re completely disposable. As I said, Jessica Alba’s Agent Sartana dies within the first five minutes of the movie, so she’s nothing more than a prop to drive Machete.
Amber Heard’s Miss San Antonio is bland with impeccable cleavage and has sex with Machete immediately after she meets him. Vanessa Hudgens’ Cereza is virginal, beautiful, and dies immediately after we meet her because she’s completely disposable to the man who loves her. Alexa Vega’s whore (Did she have a name?) wears assless chaps and lingerie the entire movie, and I think she has about two lines in the entire movie. Lady Gaga is playing a male assassin in disguise, so I guess that tells you something about a woman’s worth. But Sofia Vergara has to be the most offensive. Her antagonistic bordello owner is referred to as “man-eater” constantly, and then, well, the strap-on. I mean, seriously, Robert Rodriguez? I get that this movie is purposely ridiculous, but how come Michelle Rodriguez is the only actress who gets to have a female character who’s more than tits and ass?
The only place where I think Robert Rodriguez can redeem himself for Machete Kills is with the third film, Machete Kills Again…In Space. I shit you not, that is the title. Yes, the end of Machete Kills shows Machete getting on a spacecraft, heading for Voz’s space station, where Voz has Luz. Why do I think it’s possible to redeem this movie with an even more ridiculous one? Well, because I think Robert Rodriguez can get back to the heart of why he created Machete in the first place, if he goes to a setting that is just so unbelievably stupid. Perhaps then, he’ll remember that Machete is a cult parody and not just an opportunity to play with guns and blood.
Overall, Machete Kills is ridiculous, campy, and gory, like its predecessor; but where its predecessor succeeded was in its originality, its satire, and its focus on the characters. Machete Kills felt more like Robert Rodriguez was just going through the motions and screwing around with weapons and fake blood when he could’ve given the film more backstory, stronger foes, and less big-boobed bimbos. Maybe he’ll return to his cult parody roots with the third installment, Machete Kills Again…In Space, but I’m not really holding my breath.