Machete Kills (2013)

The sequel to Machete is a sad film that leaves us despondent and makes us yearn for the audacity of the original.

machete-killsUSA
2*

Director:
Robert Rodriguez

Screenwriter:
Kyle Ward

Director of Photography:
Robert Rodriguez

Running time: 110 minutes

Once you’ve ripped out someone’s intestines and used them to scale a building, there’s really no way for you to up the ante. But in a nod to the film’s predecessor, one of many references to countless films, Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills charges ahead and lets the title character rip out his assailant’s intestines once more and sling them into a helicopter’s fast-moving rotor blade so that we can have blood and guts splatter all over the camera lens.

If you never saw the first Machete, you may not mind this as much, but anyone seeing this follow-up will miss the good ol’ times of Machete’s former adventures. This sequel, and its main character, is sad from beginning to end, and we simply cannot allow ourselves to enjoy such a waste of talent, especially as the melancholy of the sometimes sardonic Machete is completely unbecoming.

The man with the machete, who used to be a Federale, still loves to wield his weapon of choice, slicing and dicing his enemies with the poise of a master chef. But in this installment, he has to face some revolutionary technology that is straight from a B-movie director’s wet dream. Case in point: a defective molecular disruptor that turns people inside out. If he can successfully evade this device and the women wearing bras fitted out with machine guns, he may just save the world.

Opening with a fake trailer for this sequel’s sequel, titled Machete Kills Again … in Space!, the film doesn’t beat about the bush about its intentions: We are being prepared – or set up – for the ultimate finale that will take place in a galaxy not very far away, where technology from many decades ago will vie for our attention amid some expected carnage. The narrator boldly claims that Leonardo DiCaprio may be starring, then admits the actor is subject to change.

It all seems a bit silly, but while we watch this second part of the now-official trilogy, we discover many of the characters are the same, and by the end of the film they’re all being beamed up beyond the exosphere. Rodriguez’s version of space looks incredibly boring, but perhaps he will bring the sexy back.

Unfortunately, there is no such sexiness on display in Machete Kills. The first film’s many moments of excess, which had some of the same flippancy of Tarantino’s Death Proof but without all the stylistic flourishes, provided a sensational spectacle.

At present, however, it seems Rodriguez’s imagination has run dry, as he makes wholly inappropriate references, including Mission: Impossible and the television series 24. At one point, the soundtrack even alludes to James Bond.

As it is, the film has too many famous faces anyway – Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Antonio Banderas are all villains, some more super than others – although, more often than not, they are just masks that hide the true identity of yet another mask. Rodriguez must have been aware how ridiculous this approach is, as was made clear at the time John Woo’s version of Mission: Impossible was released, but even when he is using it for fun, it becomes annoying.

The only face that brings a smile to ours is the one put forward by the overly ambitious U.S. President Rathcock, played by the one actor who has nothing to lose: Charlie Sheen, credited by his real name Carlos Estévez. Rathcock wants to prove he can live up to both parts of his name: For the first part, he employs Machete, but the second he can do himself.

He tells Machete he will become a U.S. citizen if he accepts the mission to kill Mendez, a Mexican drug lord who has a missile pointed straight at the United States. In this way, he indirectly visits his wrath upon his enemy. But his campaign videos speak of his pornographic lust for violence, as he poses with enormous weaponry to make clear his intention to safeguard the Second Amendment. He mixes some of the more objectionable traits of recent U.S. presidents to create a skirt-chasing cowboy that is both a caricature and frighteningly familiar.

But with Machete’s name in the title, one would have expected him to have more gravitas in the film itself, instead of being a bit of a side show to all the opulent tastelessness we have to witness, including the bit with the intestines. Machete is demeaned as a character because one of his most impressive skills turns out to be his ability to dodge bullets, or to be sprayed and still survive. Even in a film that aspires to being a B-movie, such a lack of imagination is unacceptable.

Let’s hope the third film is either wildly different, with pre-production time heavily spent on character development, or gets scrapped altogether – preferably with a mean machete.

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