by Bret W.
The Grindhouse style of movie making is now part of the public lexicon, particularly since the 2007 release of the tandem Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino homages, Planet Terror and Death Proof, respectively. The writing style is pulp, the violence is gratuitous, the innuendo is suggestive and titillating, and the film is intentionally grainy. If a filmmaker had been attempting to make a serious film and ended up with one of these (which happened often in the 1970s, a fact that Tarantino/Rodriguez exploit), the result would have been disastrously bad. Still, there is something endearing about some of these Grindhouse films of yesteryear, that make them enjoyable to watch, even if they are technically flawed.
Machete Kills is Rodriguez’ latest foray into the genre, and the second in his opus Mexploitation trinity. Danny Trejo, who is much too ugly and short for a leading man, has long been Rodriguez’ go-to guy for hardcore bad motor-scooter Mexicans, and he pulls off the anti-James Bond with aplomb. One would have to assume that Trejo relishes playing this character in particular, but also the stereotype in general, as he does it so well. I first became enamored of Trejo’s menacing screen presence in the 1995 Rodriguez film, Desperado, which featured Trejo as a throwing-knife-wielding assassin with no perceivable emotion or moral code. Since then I have seen him in other Rodriguez films, including Spy Kids where he plays, go figure, “Uncle Machete,” and he has never disappointed.
Which brings us to Machete numero dos. Trejo plays the Mexican federale-for-hire who, as with many of these vengeance-begets-violence films, loses his partner in a gun-bust gone bad. He is then saved from execution by the president of the United States (played effortlessly by Charlie Sheen, billed as Carlos Estevez) who offers Machete a clean slate and U.S. citizenship in return for finding and killing a Mexican terrorist named Mendez who is threatening to nuke Washington D.C. When Machete finds Mendez (Demian Bichir), he finds a multiple-personality former secret agent who goes from being psychotic to sensitive and back again. The controls to the nuclear missile are hard-wired to Mendez’s heart, and if he is killed, the nuke will immediately launch. Immediately, Machete’s mission shifts from assassination to preservation, as he must get Mendez back to the United States alive – this after Mendez himself offers a $20 million bounty on both of their heads.
One of my favorite plot twists in Machete Kills is the introduction of a new character, El Cameleon, a shape-shifting assassin who changes faces (and is played by four different headline actors – Walt Goggins; Cuba Gooding, Jr.; Lady Gaga; and Antonio Banderas) whenever anyone has seen his/her face (even though the person who sees him/her usually ends up dead). The addition of El Cameleon as antagonist helps propel the plot along and introduces chaos at points where the action seems contrived and predictable. Also shining is the performance of Sofia Vergara as Desdemona, the crazy killer madame who is bent on Machete’s destruction for personal reasons, and Mel Gibson as Voz, the evil genius with a Star Wars fixation and doomsday aspirations.
Just like the first film, Machete Kills is packed with explosions, gun violence, action, explosions, sexy women, cheesy one-liners, and explosions. Did I mention explosions? There are a lot of explosions. The film appeals to my baser nature, and definitely does not disappoint fans of the first Machete, or fans of Robert Rodriguez’s films in general. That said, as much as I loved the film, I couldn’t bring myself to give it more than two and a half stars. I would definitely see it again and will probably get the DVD when it is available. And I also look forward to the next installment, which has been teased as “Machete Kills Again… In Space.”