Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills is essentially just more of the same as 2010’s Machete. Oh, it lacks the freshness of the first film, of course, and there’s no political subtext this time — that will undoubtedly please some, but I liked the idea of an imitation cheesy exploitation movie with a subversive agenda. (Why? Because real exploitation movies often did, too.) The opening of this second film isn’t as assured and batshit crazy as the original, but, as a trade-off, the ending here is a good deal stronger than the ramshackle battle that climaxed Machete. The worst thing about the sequel is that it doesn’t have Cheech Marin, who was ill-advisedly killed off in the first movie. (Actually, he could have been worked into the brothel scene as the character he played in 1996’s From Dusk to Dawn, but nobody asked me.) Overall, though, if you liked the first film, chances are you’ll have a good time with this one. (If you sit through the new Romeo & Juliet remake, it’s easy to mistake Machete Kills for genius.)
This round, Machete (Danny Trejo) is saved from being hanged by redneck sheriff William Sadler (who rather charmingly references the old “Alley Oop” novelty song by calling Machete a “mean motor scooter”) when a call comes. The call is from The President (Charlie Sheen, billed under his birthname Carlos Estevez) who needs Machete to foil the plot of a mad Mexican named Mendez (Demian Bichir in the film’s most interesting performance) threatening to fire a nuclear missile on D.C. (Right now, thanks to the shutdown, no one is apt to argue with that idea.) Machete gives in only because it gets him a pardon and U.S. citizenship. Naturally, this is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface — not least because no one knows where Mendez is and everyone, it appears, wants Machete dead. It’s the usual drill.
What follows is hardly surprising in terms of plot. That’s not why you go to a movie like this. You’re here — if you’re here at all — to see Rodriguez’s outrageous touches and flourishes, to see if intestines will come into play in a splattery colorful manner again (they will), to bask in the butch silliness of the Machete character. This is a movie in which Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas all play the same character. It’s a movie in which a surprisingly good-humored Mel Gibson plays an evil mastermind — like someone out of a James Bond picture — bent on a screwy world-destruction scheme (all the while keeping a beating heart tied to a missile launch in a glass container).
What makes it work is how good-natured it all is and how smoothly it slides from one bizarre point to the next. For instance, when Machete Kills goes all James Bond, it even thinks to drop in some crappy, rear-screen effect like the real thing from the 1960s (not in a showy Austin Powers way, but as a simple touch). This is a very savvy little picture that assumes the viewer is, too. All in all, it’s what you might call typical Rodriguez — complete with the Grindhouse (2007) bits like the faux scratched film and the phony trailer for the follow-up film, Machete Kills Again … in Space. That Machete Kills didn’t exactly storm the box office opening weekend (it was the lowest opening for any Rodriguez picture) may make a sequel unlikely, but you never know. Rodriguez makes these things fast and cheap — relying on the goodwill of people who just like to be in his movies — so it may not take much to turn a profit or at least break even. I hope so. I mean, the prospect of Machete in outer space? I’m so there. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content.
Playing at Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher