Behold, I teach you “Machete Kills,” the Übermensch of film.
I mean, once you get to the point where Mel Gibson is riding around in the landspeeder from “A New Hope” explaining his evil plan whilst carting about a beating human heart in a coffee pot, any attempt at, or even reason for, analysis or value judgment is right out the window.
But let’s give it a shot anyhoo.
Picking up somewhat from the last film, former Federale and former pool cleaner Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) continues help ICE agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) in her fight against… whatever it is she’s fighting against. Really it’s just an excuse for the pair to be double crossed in the first of its many, many, many, many action sequences; in itself an excuse for Machete to do what he does bestgo off on a kill-crazy rampage of revenge. Machete exists for one purpose and one purpose only, to elevate carnage to such a cartoonish level it is capable of to take pleasure from it without any of the dirty, existential side effects of doing so. And if that’s not your bag, you’re watching the wrong movie because it has nothing, nothing, nothing else to offer. Co-writer/director Robert Rodriguez has, for most of his career, made two types of filmsthose for little boys and those for slightly larger little boys. “Machete Kills” is frequently an attempt to merge the two into one inglorious whole, taking his early action fests, pumping them up on steroids and then topping them off with a little speed.
It’s not without its pleasures, surface oriented they are. Rodriguez plumbs new heights (or is it depths?) of violent spectacle in the name of cheap laughs, made all the more incredulous by the caliber of actor he gotten to perform them. Chief among them is Oscar nominee Demián Bichir who manages the truly difficult task of being more off-the-wall than everyone else put together. Sure, it’s weird watching Mel Gibson in a luchador mask, but that pales compared to Bichir’s multiple personality secret agent bent on forcing the US to clean up Mexico’s drug cartel problem or else he will launch a nuclear missile to Washington. Recognizing how ludicrous the movie has become, he holds nothing back and is frequently the most interesting person around at any time (and perhaps an unfortunate admission that Trejo doesn’t quite have the charisma to hold the film together himself).
Bichir and his fellows who also take the ‘I might as well go as insane as possible’ acting trajectory might just appear to be the best (or even only) thing to hold onto as “Machete Kills'” plot lurches from side to side like it’s regretting drinking the water on location. If it doesn’t lose you with the terrorist missile, it might once the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen) and Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) send Machete to track Mendez down to his secret Aztec temple lab. If you’re still hanging on by that point, you’re probably okay though, at least until the Flash Gordon gun that turns people inside out shows up.
In the process of ramping up all that craziness, however, Rodriguez has driven over the handful of good ideas and well-executed turns that manage to spring up as his attention wanders all over the landscape creating the film version of having ADHD. The greatest loss is El/La Cameleón (Walton Goggins and Lady Gaga and Cuba Gooding, Jr. and more), the killer with no face who gets both the best scenes and has the least relevance. Chameleón is the county of silky smooth, almost believable yet just a little absurd killer that “Machete Kills” could really use a lot more of. He/she gets most of the film’s best lines, usually delivered in Goggins voice no matter what face he’s wearing (for extra trippiness) accompanied by some great delivery, particularly from Gooding, Jr. And he has almost nothing to do with the plot; in fact he could be removed from it entirely and you’d get almost the same movie. When your best character is expendable, you’ve got problems.
On the other hand, he treats his bad characters the same, it’s just there are a lot more of them, people like Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), designed to shock and thrill but not doing either particularly well; road kill in Rodriguez’s endless quest to top the ridiculousness of the first “Machete” regardless of how much of a hit the tone takes in response. A certain grounded bit of absurdity is fantastic, and was what made “Machete” so enjoyable; the release of all moorings for the sequel has had actually the opposite effect of what was intended, sending it plummeting back to Earth.
The end result is simply childish, sometimes happily, sometimes frustratingly, but never consistently which does keep the worst aspects from taking over but also prevents the best from holding court either. The first “Machete” had some excuse for that as Rodriguez worked fiendishly to construct a narrative out of pieces shot for a fake trailer two years earlier. “Machete Kills” has no such excuse; rather Rodriguez has adopted the madcap narrative desperation of the first film as his permanent tone going forward.
Maybe he’s gotten all out of system by now. I’m sure “Machete Kills Again… In Space” will be a much more subdued, practical affair.