Danny Trejo - Machete
Michelle Rodriguez - She
Mel Gibson - Luther Voz
Demian Bachir - Marcos Mendez
Amber Heard - Miss San Antonio
Jessica Alba - Santana Rivera
Carlos Estevez [Charlie Sheen] - President Rathcock
William Sadler - Sheriff Doakes
Sofia Vergara - Madame Desdemona
Genre - Action/Comedy/Science Fiction/Exploitation
Running Time - 107 Minutes
During a mission to stop a drug cartel from trading weapons at the U.S./Mexico border, Machete (Danny Trejo) and girlfriend, Santana Rivera (Jessica Alba), deal with a tragic loss as Santana is murdered by a man wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. Machete is blamed for the death, but is pardoned by President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez) - who promises Machete that he'll make him an official American citizen and erase his prior arrest records if he takes on a secret mission for him. Aided by Texas beauty paegant contestant named Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and freedom fighter Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete must stop two criminals.
One is Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) - a former revolutionary-turned-schizophrenic madman who has a bomb triggered to his heart. The other is Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), an evil mastermind who has global plan of terror in mind that involves clones and space. Along the way, Machete also encounters more adversaries like Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), a bullet-bra wearing brothel madame, and El Chameleon (played by different actors like Lady Gaga and Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who also want Machete dead.
MACHETE KILLS is a film I wanted to see and review much earlier than this. But around the time of its release, I had a family tragedy and wasn't really in the mood to watch the sequel to a film I liked, but didn't love. I figured with the trailers hype, and the fact that 2010's MACHETE became a cult hit due to the character's appearances in 2001's SPY KIDS and in the classic faux trailer in 2007's GRINDHOUSE, MACHETE KILLS would do well at the box office. To my surprise, the film bombed and is pretty much forgotten after only a month.
I don't know why this particular film bugged me so much, but I had to see why MACHETE KILLS didn't appeal to a broader audience. So finally after watching it and taking it all in, I can see why it didn't do so well. The first MACHETE did okay because the hype was huge due to the cult status of GRINDHOUSE. But once many people watched MACHETE, they felt that it was a character that probably didn't deserve a sequel. Plus, the tone from the trailers was more over-the-top and humorous than what the first film had presented. Also, with the positive talk of GRAVITY [which I still consider 2013's best film so far] at the time, it overshadowed MACHETE KILLS [which kept moving release dates]. GRAVITY looked like a film worth a full price theater ticket. MACHETE KILLS looked like a film worth $8 on Netflix Instant. And sad for me to say, I'm glad I didn't pay full price for MACHETE KILLS. While it's an entertaining and funny film at times, it feels like a film that's less of a sequel and more of a prop to set up an even crazier installment that already looks more interesting than this one.
I think my major issue with MACHETE KILLS is the screenplay itself. It just didn't click with me as much as I had wanted to. I thought the script in the first film wasn't all that either, with its anti-immigration theme that hindered the film rather than make it memorable. But it was more cohesive than what this sequel was selling me. There's just too much going on in MACHETE KILLS, with characters that, while interesting, don't add much in the end. Also, there are so many plot elements being introduced, that it's hard to focus on a single thing. It's as if screenwriter Kyle Ward [in his debut here] just threw a bunch of random stuff to a wall to see what would stick. It's too scattershot for its own good.
Machete, as a character, isn't an interesting guy. Sure he has cool catchphrases and can kick major ass, but there's no emotional connection to him. Why should I care about his plight? He loses his love, yet proceeds to bang another chick minutes later! The guy doesn't seem to want to die either, making him less interesting now that he's a superhero rather than a real person who can be vulnerable to real problems. It doesn't help that the supporting characters around him are more colorful and full of life, even if they aren't developed as well as they should be. Voz comes off as a Bond villain, who reveals his plan to the hero before he actually makes it happen. Marcos Mendez is so crazy, that he comes across as fascinating, wishing there was a film about this guy. Miss San Antonio is sexy and seductive, but has an air of mystery about her that makes you interested. Madame Desdemona has a steel bra and panties that shoot bullets while speaking in an over-the-top Latina accent. Even President Rathcock is damn cool President. Machete is second fiddle next to all these people. It's a shame. I wish these characters were in a better film.
Speaking of Bond villains, MACHETE KILLS seems like a spoof of one of those films. MOONRAKER, or any Roger Moore era Bond film, came to mind many times. Voz comes across as a stereotypical Bond villain, who reveals his entire scheme before pulling it off. The stunts and gadgets are also very Bond-like. And Miss San Antonio, in many ways, comes across as Machete's M and/or Q. And I actually liked it, because it made MACHETE KILLS feel different from MACHETE. We also get moments that come out of STAR WARS towards the end. MACHETE KILLS is the best AUSTIN POWERS film without Mike Myers. It was a bit startling at first, but I found the spoof aspect to be oddly entertaining and fun. Too bad there's too much going on for it to really resonate in a meaningful level.
The best part of the script for me were the moments teasing us for the third, and probably final, installment - MACHETE KILLS AGAIN...IN SPACE! The film opens with a trailer for it, which shows how silly and ridiculous the direction of this franchise has gone. Justin Beiber supposedly playing a robot that looks like Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, that quickly gets destroyed by Machete. The villain, wearing an iron mask, played by Leonardo DiCaprio - although it's mentioned that the casting may change in a funny bit. Intergalactic action and silly sci-fi elements in a MACHETE film? Call me silly, but I'm so there! Established franchises that eventually take their characters to outer space always fascinate me on a "WTF?" level, so I really hope this installment does get made - even if it goes straight to home video and digital format. I think it could be a lot a fun, and seems to be more focused than what MACHETE KILLS presented.
And while I did have issues with the film, I did find MACHETE KILLS to be mostly a fun time. The dialogue was silly enough to make me laugh at times. The characters are so out there, that you can't help but be amused by them. Even the situations the characters are in are downright hilarious at times. Do I wish the script was a bit shorter and tighter? Absolutely. But when MACHETE KILLS works, it really works. But when it doesn't, it brings the sequel down - especially during the tedious last act of the film. The script just needed another rewrite and I think it would have done better.
What MACHETE KILLS does get right is the violence. My God, this film does not hold back on blood and guts. Stabbings. Gunfire. Decapitations. Amputations. Splitting people in half with a machete. There's helicopter violence. And probably the best thing about the film - a gun that disrupts molecules to turn people inside out. It reminded me of something from the Saints Row video game series. I loved it. It does get a bit repetitive towards the end, but it's definitely one of this sequel's strengths.
As for the direction, Robert Rodriguez does a good job. But it's not his best film and something felt off about the visual style here. For one, it didn't feel or look like a Grindhouse film. The film looked great, but it was way too polished. Plus, where were the boobs? This sequel felt really tame and too mainstream. Also, the pacing was a bit off as well. The action sequences were shot well, but the downtime scenes kind of ruined the flow at times. I felt that the sequel should have been about 15 minutes shorter.
Other than that, the direction was good. The editing was well done. The composition and framing were well done. I liked the 3D moment where Machete is getting down with Miss San Antonio. The colors were vibrant. The locations looked cool, even though I could see visible green screen effects. The CGI was cartoony, but it matched the film's tone. I didn't love it, but it was good enough.
The acting was one of the film's highlights. Danny Trejo is Machete at this point, and he plays the part well. I just wish he had more interesting things to do in this film. Michelle Rodriguez shows up to play the tough chick, She - a character she plays in every film she's in. Her part looks interesting in the next installment. Mel Gibson looks like he's finally having fun in a film again as Luther Voz. He plays a Bond villain, and he seems to enjoy playing a bad guy for once. Looking forward to his role in EXPENDABLES 3. Even better was Demian Bichir as Marcos Mendez. Playing against type, Bichir created a captivating villain who was evil one minute, and sort of heroic the other. I loved his madman performance, and I wish he had been the film's main villain over the stereotypical Luther Voz character. I also thought Amber Heard was pretty great as well. She's very seductive, and seemed to be having fun in her dangerous role of Miss San Antonio. The rest of the cast, including Sofia Vergara [looking uber-hot as usual], Vanessa Hudgens, Lady GaGa [who was surprisingly okay], Alexa Vega, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Savini, William Sadler, Marko Zaror, Antonio Banderas, and Carlos "Charlie Sheen" Estevez were good as well. I just wish there appearances didn't feel like extended cameos just to have a Who's Who for people to point out. But I did like seeing all these random actors in one strange film, making MACHETE KILLS memorable just for that fact alone.
THE FINAL HOWL
While I did have fun with MACHETE KILLS, I'm disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more. It has great action, interesting violent moments, a super game cast, and even competent direction by Robert Rodriguez. But the narrative was all over the place with too many characters to focus on, feeling as if this was made just to set up a crazier sequel in mind. Plus, it was way too long and looked too polished to feel like a modern Grindhouse film. And judging by the box office receipts, it looks like that third film may not happen. But I hope it does, because seeing Machete star in a different setting within a different genre could be real interesting and fun. MACHETE KILLS is better than average, but it should have been better than it actually was.