Machete Kills

by Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison

EXPECTATIONS: So I see that Robert Rodriguez continues to make movies. His saturday morning cartoon logic and bizarre insistence on casting Jessica Alba in things doesn't generally make for a good time at the cinema. The first Machete film wasn't entirely terrible, just mostly terrible. I'm hoping that Machete Kills can elevate that to just largely terrible.

REALITY: Machete Kills is a joyless experience. To give you some idea of the film's tone, it begins with a fake trailer for the upcoming sequel Machete Kills Again ...In Space, it is a weird mess of CGI spaceships, stunt casting and fake film grain to give the impression that the Grindhouse era never died. Of course it is a short and not particularly new or amusing joke to start the film, the entirety of which is an extended version of that exact same joke, ending with the punchline of yet another fake trailer for the upcoming sequel Machete Kills Again ...In Space. On the one hand it lampoons the universe-building mentality of the Marvel Studios formula, on the other hand it does so without an ounce of sincerity.

I can't see you hacking many vines with that thing.After the violent events of the first film, the titular Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is sent by the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen) back into Mexico to find out what extremist revolutionary Mendez (Demian Bichir) is up to and to kill him if necessary. Things are never that simple, naturally, and so Machete finds that Mendez has wired his heart to a nuclear missile aimed at America. If he dies, America goes with him. Assisted by his compatriot from the first film, Shé (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete does what he can to get Mendez to the real villain, the man who wired up his heart in the first place, Luther Voz (Mel Gibson). Because that doesn't make for much of an action film, Machete is chased by various, tenuously-connected characters (Sofia Vergara, Lady Gaga and William Sadler).

It's all a big flimsy mess with way too many characters rattling around and most of the justification for it seems to be "This is the kind of thing they did in the Grindhouse era." The difference, of course, is that when Hugo Stiglitz and Milton Rodríguez used to do this stuff, it was done on a shoestring budget in an effort to turn a small profit from local audiences and when it was over, they just did it again. It was guerilla art, made for people who, if they wanted to see a movie again, just waited a week and watch an identical film instead. That's what exploitation cinema was all about. That's what the "Grindhouses" were for. I almost feel like my profession is the one to blame for this. In declaring all art equally worthy of artistic analysis and appreciation the Grindhouse, the arthouse and the multiplex all got commingled. Don't get me wrong, the sentiment holds true, but is Machete Kills a film best served by an international general release?

In Machete Kills, CGI bullet impacts and dismemberments are shoddily mingled with rubber heads and spurting red goop. It's a confused blunder that only begs the question of just what Robert Rodriguez was going for here. Did he really want to capture the essence of the Grindhouse era or update it? It is possible to do both, but Machete Kills' weird, fourth wall breaking self-awareness is not consistent enough to read as parody and not strong enough in its convictions to read as genuine. Compare this to the superb Hobo With a Shotgun which perfectly captures the fast-and-dirty style of the era by replicating the conditions of its necessity. On top of that, it even has a point to make about its environment built on rubber heads and blood geysers and makes it by delivering a violent Christ-figure in the form of Rutger Hauer's nameless Hobo who gives up his dream of owning a lawnmower when he just can't take it anymore. Compare that to Danny Trejo's Machete, who is told outright that he cannot be killed because he embodies "vengeance." How can you explore vengeance without exploring its need?

Oh good, now we're exploiting people.

While Hobo With a Shotgun holds itself partly responsible for the evils targeted by its righteous anger, Machete Kills really shows no interest in the place it holds in society's ills. This is never more apparent than in the characters played by Sofia Vergara and Amber Heard. Vergara plays a crazed, man-hating prostitute with machine gun boobs and a revolver on her crotch. Why doesn't she just pick up a gun? Because her anger at men is actually an extension of some phallic envy?

Heard plays a government agent undercover as "Miss San Antonio," a beauty pageant contestant determined to do anything to win. She wants to control Machete with her feminine wiles and she wants to win out over the other women in pursuit of a diamond-studded tiara. This extends into the third act when she betrays Machete and slugs it out with Michelle Rodriguez. So we have women who hate men and women who hate women, both pitted against the idealised character of Shé while dialogue the likes of "I thought I smelled bitch in the air" rings out. The point? There isn't one. None of this is focussed enough to form a coherent point about anything.

That's the main issue with the entire film, none of it gels in any satisfying way. The numerous uninteresting characters, the bizarre stylistic mish-mash, the stunt casting of major movie stars to support an aging character actor in the lead, any attempt at humour or character development, any attempt to evoke a filmmaking style that this film's target audience have no interest in, none of it works. And it doesn't work because every single moment of it rings false. Machete Kills is a lie. Watch Hobo With a Shotgun again instead. Or anything with Hugo Stiglitz.

Danny Trejo4/10
Mel Gibson8/10
Style0/10
Substance0/10
Who Cares?Not Me
Overall12/50

MINORITY REPORT: Shouldn't Quentin Tarantino's influence have rubbed off on Rodriguez at least a little bit by now? Every year that passes, it becomes more clear that he's taken all the wrong lessons from Grindhouse. - Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

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