Review by Paul Stathakis | October 24, 2013

A stale taco

Director Robert Rodriguez doesn’t know how to let go of an idea. He turned his debut feature film “El Mariachi” into a trilogy. Then, he did the same with “Spy Kids.” Now he’s doing it again with his “Machete” character months before he’s to release a second “Sin City” film. When you have these many sequels in the works, your time is nearly up. After seeing “Machete Kills”, one thing is certain: the Mexican director’s pen is running dry. This is a loud and silly sequel that, unlike the first installment, takes itself too seriously. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a slew of cameo appearances aimed at keeping the film afloat but even those parts don’t help. The warning, this time, comes early: avoid this film like the plague.

“Machete kills. That’s what he does,” says the U.S. President played by Charlie Sheen. Indeed, that’s probably the only thing that Machete (Danny Trejo) knows how to do. In this sequel, Machete is hired by the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen) to locate and stop Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), a lunatic arms dealer with plans to launch a missile into space. Gibson’s role as the villain in “Machete Kills” is unsurprisingly the best thing that the film has to offer. This is a refreshing welcome back to form for Gibson who, since his nasty mediatized divorce, has been hiding in the shadows. As Voz, Gibson seems to be having a ball. Even in a lackluster film like “Machete Kills” Gibson is still able to turn in a performance that stands out from the rest.

Some actors from the first “Machete” film return, notably Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez as Shé, the leader of an illegal immigrant aid movement known as the Network. Rodriguez loves to work with big casts. “Machete” featured veterans Robert De Niro, Don Johnson, and Steven Seagal . There is an equally long list of big names making appearances in “Machete Kills”,  half of which don’t make much sense. Lady Gaga is one of them. Her role is a mere excuse to attract a certain demographic and for the famed pop singer to try her hand at acting. How silly is it than her character is just as strange as her singer persona?  Cuba Gooding Jr., a talented actor, also has a small unmemorable part. Sofia Vergara and Amber Heard are also part of the cast. This is Vergara’s first ever film role and she stars as a brothel patron. Though she delivers a great monologue about abuse, her role serves as a filler as does Heard’s. Whatever acting talent these women possess is sadly not explored because Rodriguez seems infinitely more interested in their bodies than their acting.

The first “Machete” film was fun. It was released following Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and, in essence, it was a continuation of his tribute to exploitation films. A great deal of work went into making the film look amateurish with scratchy grainy footage, poor editing, overacting, and cheesy one-liners. “Machete Kills” doesn’t offer that same experience. This feels like a bigger budget remake of a B-movie. With the exception of an amusing fake trailer that opens the movie, there is nothing that screams originality. If you like high body counts, this is just the film for you. Some sequences are so overloaded and overcrowded that it’s difficult to take in any of the action. It’s as if the director felt an obligation to fit everything and everyone in the film’s 100 minute running time. It is highly probable that there are more killings here than in any other recent action film released. Some of these killings are also some of the gruesomest you’re likely to see this year on a big screen. To give you an idea, picture a man’s intestines being ripped out and then tossed into a helicopter’s rotor. The first installment was violent enough but the sequel really pushes the boundaries. If it were remotely original, we might have been more forgiving. But it’s senseless. To those with sensitive stomachs, this is 100 minutes of pure torture.Really makes you wonder why some seriously talented independent filmmakers are being overlooked in favor of dull films like this one.

“Machete Kills” is a product by a director who makes movies for his own personal fulfillment. Who cares if it’s incoherent? Who cares if it’s repulsive to look at? Who cares if it makes your eyes roll? Who cares if your stomach turns? Who cares if it hurts your ears? Who cares if you leave the theater upset? That appears to be Rodriguez’s attitude. He doesn’t seem to care and it shows in virtually each frame of “Machete Kills.” On the poster, Rodriguez’s name is clearly visible just above the title but I wonder how long it’ll be before he has to start hiding it to attract an audience. This is the work of a filmmaker who’s quickly losing his creative edge. If he continues down this path, it may be too late for him to return to form. And I’m being nice.


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