Review by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Carlos Estevez, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Jessica Alba, Demián Bichir, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding, Jr., William Sadler, Marko Zaror, Mel Gibson
Running time: 107 minutes
Machete is a man of the people. In 2007, when director Robert Rodriguez introduced Danny Trejo as the badass, blade-wielding, ex-Federale agent in Grindhouse’s winking Mex-ploitation trailer, fans convinced him to turn the joke into a feature film. And when, for shits and giggles, he teased Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again in Machete (2010), those same fans urged him to franchise his Mexican killing machine.
With Machete Kills, Rodriguez gives fans a taste of the familiar but loads his exploitation enchilada with the lunacy of the most far-fetched Roger Moore-era James Bond flicks and other fanboy elements. With the exception of Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez’s memorable turn as a straight talking, orgy-loving U.S. President Rathcock, new variations on the machete, and a Jesse James-customized rusted metal ride that Machete drives in an ode to The Road Warrior, the additions are primarily of the villainous type. Mendez the Madman (Demián Bichir) is a delightfully schizophrenic Mexican revolutionary/terrorist who plans to launch a nuclear missile at Washington DC to give the U.S. a taste of the violence and suffering in his homeland. Sofía Vergara plays Madame Desdemona, a man-hating brothel matron who leads a crew of scantily clad, heavily armed whores—including one played by former Spy Kids star Alexa Vega, who’s now 25 and smoking hot—and tends to shoot things out of her bosoms and crotch. A quartet of stars, whose identities can be looked up online but are better left unspoiled, team up to play an assassin named El Cameleón, who hunts Machete and continually sheds his skin to assume a new identity.
The best addition, by far, is Mel Gibson as Luther Voz, an precognitive arms-dealing tech billionaire who steps the madness up tenfold with futuristic weapons and a plot that involves planetary destruction, a space station, genetically engineered super soldier clones, and a severed, still-beating heart. Like Lindsay Lohan in Machete, Gibson’s unhinged real-life personality adds to the inside-joke charm of his character.
Unfortunately, not every inch of this Machete is as razor sharp as Voz. Callback jokes like “Machete don’t tweet” and Desdemona’s mash-up of Sin City’s Old Town prostitute leader Gail (Rosario Dawson), Rose McGowan’s machine-gun-legged stripper Cherry Darling from Planet Terror, and Tom Savini’s From Dusk till Dawn biker, while sure to please the franchise’s fans, don’t hit nearly as hard as the original Rodriguez bits they recall. Amber Heard, though great to look at as secret agent/beauty pageant contestant Miss San Antonio, dulls the blade with her corn-tortilla chistes, especially when she exchanges barbs with Michelle Rodriguez’s underground leader Shé.
As could be expected, the Mex-ploitation joke that started as a few minutes of spoof trailer jam-packed with goodness is beginning to wear thin the way that Saturday Night Live skits often do when they run long or get feature-film treatment. The answer to that is to take the beloved gruff character of Machete and throw him into increasingly more lunatic situations so he can tear shit up. It may not work for the unattached viewer, but fans will likely ride for their hero to the death (theirs will obviously come before his, as Machete only dies when Machete wants to). Rodriguez is no longer joking when he teases Machete Kills Again… In Space!, with Trejo in an astronaut’s suit with a light saber machete. If he were, it's safe to assume his audience would beg it into existence anyway.