The idea of Danny Trejo as a violent uncompromising vigilante action hero, Machete – Charles Bronson with a sword - is vaguely amusing for a trailer. The bastard off-spring of GRINDHOUSE (2007) now appears in his second movie, MACHETE KILLS and also, in the opening minutes, his second mock trailer, MACHETE KILLS AGAIN – IN OUTER SPACE. The mock trailer of a film that may feature Leonardo Di Caprio as ‘The Man in the Silver Mask’, ‘contract not yet confirmed’ achieves a frivolous tone that the main attraction cannot match. The problem is that director Robert Rodriguez won’t go full-1970s, meaning he won’t allow his Trejo to be more than a growling face.
For a MACHETE film to work, the central character has to be defined. He is supposedly an ex-Federale whose brother was killed and who learns that ‘justice does not mean the law’ but that (apparently) was all in the first movie. He also has to be defined as something more than Snake Plissken without an eye patch – the fashion accessory falls to Michelle Rodriguez in an obvious homage to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. He has to either speak or make a point of explaining why he doesn’t; there is a running joke, ‘Machete don’t’ which you can complete with the words ‘tweet, text or make box office sense’.
MACHETE KILLS looks and feels like one of director Robert Rodriguez’s SPY KIDS movies, only with not terribly convincing and sometimes very contrived splatter effects. The presence of Jessica Alba in the opening sequence reminds one of the awful SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD – and I had no wish to be reminded of such an uninspired piece of fluff. The joy that Rodriguez took in filmmaking evident in EL MARIACHI and DESPERADO is undercut by visual effects that have no business looking as cheap as they do. I would like to think of it as paying homage to rough-and-ready exploitation cinema but I have my doubts.
The plot is incredibly silly involving Demian Bichir as Mendez, a schizophrenic who may be a US government agent having a rocket aimed at Washington, a silly looking one that ought to have Acme written on the side of it or something to tell us that it is a joke. Saved from a hanging by the President (Charlie Sheen credited here as Carlos Estevez) he is sent to avenge the death of his colleague aided by Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard). Only once does Rodriquez cue a joke properly. There is a build up to a sex scene between Machete and the Beauty Queen. A caption tells us to put on our 3D glasses and the next scene is all red and green, like old style 3D. I have my doubts that a modern audience would get it. Instead, they might wonder, ‘hey, I didn’t buy a ticket for PREDATOR.’
Machete escapes with Mendez who has the controls to the bomb strapped to his chest. He has to get back to the border to be able to receive US aid. But a bounty is placed on his head and he is pursued by an assassin known as the Chameleon, played variously by Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas. The Chameleon kills people if they see his face, but why should it matter if he pulls his – or her – artificial skin off.
Also on Machete’s tail is a brothel madam (Sofia Vergara) whose best girl was taken by Machete to find Bechir’s character and then dies. She has a strap-on machine gun bra that makes one glad that Rodriguez did not remake BARBARELLA as originally mooted; it’s a joke that might work in a mock trailer, but in a movie it loses its amusement factor fast.
The film builds to the reveal of the movie’s chief villain, Mel Gibson as Voz. Like Sheen, his dialogue is tinged with lines that verge on self-parody. ‘I was once among the stars,’ he muses and wants to get back there; his character organises a mass exodus – and we know what Gibson has said about the Jews in the past. Voz also shows Machete his array of lethal weapons – the movie teeters on a reference to the franchise – and he gets his face burnt, resembling Gibson’s character in THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE.
Michelle Rodriguez turns up two thirds of the way through to lend support and there is the inevitable battle between her and another woman. Horror make-up artist Tom Savini reprises his role from the first MACHETE movie in the faintest whiff of back story.
It becomes apparent that the mock trailer is really a plant to prepare us for the third cheesy movie of a trilogy. Am I interested? Heck, no. Of the cast, only the sheriff (William Sadler, doing a Michael Parks impersonation) and his deputy seem anything like lived-in characters; they have Tarantino-style dialogue in a screenplay credited to Kyle Ward. MACHETE KILLS is frankly boring, though it has a moderately amusing reference to cutting the blue wire; I hope Rodriguez cuts his creative losses and leaves the trilogy incomplete. Trejo is an empty centre; Machete bores.
Reviewed at Cineworld, Wood Green Screen 5, Sunday 13 October, 15:45 screening