Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Machete Kills" Review: Machete Don't Fail And Neither Does His New Movie


In 2010, Director Robert Rodriguez and star Danny Trejo made Machete, a film based off a single trailer that was made as a joke and played before the film Grindhouse. That film had its share of problems, but the 1970's exploitation style and aesthetics (not to mention its excessive over the top violence), as well as very tongue-in-cheek tone to the mayhem made the film a lot of fun. At the very end of that film we were then promised two more films featuring everyones favorite machete wielding ex-Federali, turned day laborer, turned vigilante, turned secret agent.

Making good on the promise (whether you wanted them to or not), Rodriguez and Trejo are back with Machete Kills. This time ditching a lot of the political commentary (but certainly not all of it) in favor of a much more stream-lined and general audience friendly spy/espionage framework. How does this new look fit Matchete? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Rave 18
Time: 8:05 pm, Oct. 11, 2013      
Projector Type: Digital      
Film Rating: R       
Film Runtime: 1 hr 48 min   
Studio: Open Road Pictures

Biases:  
Loves: Danny Trejo, Machete, the Grindhouse look and feel
Likes: Comedies that spoof serious film genres, all the cameos, Charlie Sheen as President, Mel Gibson as the bad guy
Neutral: The purposeful cheesy effects
Hates: That Robert Rodriguez has stopped making real movies
Number 1 thing you should never do: Show the trailer for the sequel to the film you are about to watch right before you watch it


After losing his partner and facing off with an unknown group of criminals, Machete finds himself at the White House where President Rothrock (Charlie Sheen/Carlos Estevez) promises him US citizenship if he crosses the border and kills a madman named Mendez (Demian Bichir) before he can launch a nuclear attack on the United States. With the aid of his Government liaison, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and the operatives of the Mexican Underground run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete takes the job...because that is what Machete does...he kills.

While the first film relied heavily on the exploitation/grindhouse aesthetic, Rodriguez nearly changes all of that for what can only be described as a spy movie spoof (akin to something along the lines of the Austin Powers movies). Just replace the cheeky British humor with some extremely non-PC Mexican related humor and they are practically the same movie. On that note, the film (while still extremely violent) has a much lighter tone that the previous film, which depending on your expectations could be seen as either a good or bad thing.



Once Machete gets his mission from a very enthusiastic Charlie Sheen, who plays the President as though he is a rockstar, he quickly gets sent on what feels like a globe trotting adventure until you realize that the entire film just has Machete jumping the US/Mexico border over and over again. Part the charm of any spy movie spoof are the villains and Machete Kills is brimming to the top with a number of outlandish and over the top villainous types.

The aforementioned Mendez played by virtual unknown Demian Bichir (unkown here at least) is quite possibly the biggest surprise of the the film. His character provides a good chunk of the laughter in the beginning with his multiple personalities and how each time he changes so does his death wish. On the fly he turns into either a cartel kingpin, a revolutionary or an undercover spy which when asked how many personalities he has, the spy personality slyly says that it is classified. You may not have known him before seeing the film, but chances are you won't forget him either.


He is not alone though, joined by a slew of cameo appearances from Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas as a group of bounty hunters, the film has no shortage of scene stealing performances. Special mention needs to go out to Banderas though whose portrayal of a Hispanic truck driver who speaks bad Spanish is a real highlight of the film. As for Lady Gaga, well...she isn't bad, but then again she really doesn't have a whole lot to do either.

Also on board, and not quite as effective, are Sofia Vergara as a brothel madam and her mob of prostitutes (which includes a very under dressed Alexa Vega who most will remember as the daughter in the Spy Kids films). Vergara is fun to watch and her pronunciation of the word p***y is nearly worth the price of admission alone, but with a film already overstuffed with villains, she and her prostitutes could have been left out entirely and it wouldn't have mattered at all.

Then there is Mel Gibson as the evil mastermind Voz, who is in full on James Bond super villain mode (he even dons a cape at one point). Gibson has been trying to find anyway he can back into the Hollywood spotlight and thus far has failed, but his turn as Voz, a man who geeks out over everything Star Wars and wants to create a civilization in space, is clearly the most fun the actor has had in a good long while. Chewing the scenery and just having a complete blast playing it larger than life, Gibson steals the film out from everyone with his evil glee.


In an effort to not spend the rest of this review talking about the cast (Rodriguez really threw in the kitchen sink with this one), Amber Heard pleased with her overtly sexual ways, Michelle Rodriguez was solid, Vanessa Hudgens might as well have not been it at all, Charlie Sheen rocked as the President (loved his U.S. citizen stamp), Tom Savini was awesome and William Sadler was the perfect sleazeball. Did I mention there were a lot of people in this thing?

Before we move on though, we should mention the star of the show, Danny Trejo. Once again he is joined by this massive cast, but unlike his first outing where he was severely overshadowed by them, he is very much in the forefront most of the time. His many conflicts with all of those above are priceless, especially when you thrown in that trademark Machete attitude (Machete don't tweet!) and that dead stare (the look he gives when he is hung from a noose will forever be ingrained in my memory), are each memorable in their own way. Trejo delivers on every level and makes Machete the focal point as he should be.


Now, you may or may not have caught on yet that this film is in fact a comedy, or more to the point, a spoof. A spoof of what exactly? All those James Bond films from the 60's and 70's seem to be a main influence for what Rodriguez was going for here (this is the Hispanic version of Austin Powers or Undercover Brother, just with more blood, guts and attitude). What's surprising though is that he nails it, this is probably one of the funniest movies of the year while simultaneously being the most ridiculously over the top and bizarre films of the year. It is a jarring shift from the more exploitative nature of the first film, but it works.

While Machete himself may take issue with his film being labeled as a comedy (Machete don't joke!), there is no other way to describe it. Some of the things that happen in it are just too outrageously stupid to be taken seriously. A man's intestines are thrown into a helicopter blade (you can imagine the rest), a laser gun that turns people inside out, a man thrown at a helicopter which then subsequently explodes from the impact, a spaceship with subway style harnesses to hold on to, clone soldiers, double D breast machine guns and a machete lightsaber are just a few examples of the craziness that is Machete Kills.


The real crazy part about all of this though is that it all comes together in this really insane way to make a film that really shouldn't work as well as it ultimately does. All the cameos, all the comedy, the absurdity of it all and even the little bits of political commentary strewn throughout are balanced perfectly. Just about the only thing that doesn't quite fit anymore is all the over the top violence that, while still humorous, feels almost out of place with this new direction the franchise is taking. But then again, what would a Machete movie be like without him killing people in ridiculously insane fashions?

There was one irredeemable failure though that cannot go unmentioned though. In almost of an homage to itself, before the film begins there is a trailer for yet another Machete film, actually it is a trailer for the sequel to the film you are about to watch entitled Machete Kills Again...In Space. While it makes for a good laugh, when you begin to realize that this is in fact the trailer for the next film in the franchise and it is heavy on spoilers for the film you are about to watch, it, words cannot express how infuriating it is. Why they didn't just place it at the end of this film (which they did in a way) is anyones guess, but it ruined some of the cool surprises that happen in Machete Kills and that was a bit of a bummer.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

It may not be high art, it may not be Robert Rodriguez's best film and it may seem like a huge waste of time for everyone involved, but damned if it isn't a fun ride and even a mild improvement over the first film. It may still be a little rough around the edges and the violence feels a little out of place this time around, but if you get the humor and are a fan of Danny Trejo, there is absolutely no way in hell that his latest venture as the elusive Machete will disappoint.

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