Danny Trejo as Machete in Machete Kills
I still remember the day I stopped having a childhood best friend. We played together almost every day, building Legos and having childhood make-‘em-ups, until one day, everything changed. I can’t pinpoint exactly what happened, but he wanted to play and I desperately wanted to do anything but. That’s kind of how I’ve felt about Robert Rodriguez’s work for the last decade. Rodriguez desperately wants to play, and I don’t want to let him down, but I’m just not feeling it. It’s just not the same anymore. There already wasn’t much to hang the first Machete movie on; it was a one-joke premise gleaned from a one-joke trailer, stretched as thin as possible. The premise of Machete Kills (teased at the end of the original) seems to be mostly how preposterous it is to create a sequel to a movie with precisely one thing to say and one joke to make. After all, aren’t sequels just more of the same?
The breakneck, frequently nonsensical plot boils down to this: after the death of his partner and girlfriend (Jessica Alba) in a botched operation, superhero-federale-secret agent Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is tasked by none other than the president (Charlie Sheen) and Miss Texas (Amber Heard) to take down schizophrenic Mexican drug lord Mendez (Demian Bichir), who is threatening the security of the United States. When Machete finds Mendez, however, there’s a twist: Mendez’s evil personality (he has three) has wired his heartbeat to a timer that will unleash all kinds of nuclear fury on the States if his heart were ever to stop. Machete grabs Mendez and heads out to find the dastardly weapons dealer (Mel Gibson) that can deprogram Mendez’s heart and save the world. Also, a madam with a machine gun bra (Sofia Vergara) and a shapeshifting bounty hunter (Lady Gaga, mostly, but not always) are also trying to pop Machete.
Any pretensions Rodriguez may have had to make Machete a neo-grindhouse icon fly right out the window here. Machete Kills resembles nothing if not a gory, profane, cleavage-heavy Bond movie, complete with handy gadgets, ticking time bombs and over-the-top boat stunts. It can be gleefully insane (such as in a scene where a helicopter beheads a good twenty henchmen in rapid succession), and it can be entertaining (Bichir is a particular highlight as the cackling madman Mendez), but its barrage of caffeinated nonsense is mostly repetitive and stultifying. There’s nothing here that wasn’t already explored in the first installment, and Rodriguez lazily borrows from his past work for mundane plot points (Vergara dons Tom Savini’s crotch machine gun from From Dusk Till Dawn, for one) and insists on broad Star Wars parallels aimed at the Comic Con peanut gallery.
None of it’s meant to be taken seriously, of course, but the cast and crew of Machete Kills approach not taking things seriously with such focus that it soon becomes joyless, an endless barrage of mugging and severed limbs that pushes into catatonic overstimulation. I certainly admire the verve of this brand of postmodern action movie (second only in sheer sensorial carnage to the Crank films), but the sense that Rodriguez wanted to blow up his toys with his friends comes across much more clearly than the sense that he cared if it was watchable. ■
Machete Kills opens Friday, Oct. 11