Theatrical Review: Machete Kills

Former Mexican Federale and all around bad-ass, Machete, gets recruited by the United States government to go after an arms dealer, Voz as he plans to enact an insane scheme.

Yep, that’s all I’m going to say about the story to Machete Kills, the latest film from director Robert Rodriguez and the sequel to 2010’s Machete, which in turn was a pseudo-sequel of sorts to 2007’s Grindhouse. Grindhouse (my personal nod for movie of the year for 2007) was the brainchild of directors Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino that sought to bring back the flavor of 70s and 80s exploitation films with it’s double feature of movies, Planet Terror and Death Proof. Peppered around the movies were all sorts of cool “fake” trailers for upcoming movies as well as assorted ads (and this is where I insert my personal appeal to Rob Zombie to yet again make a full-length feature around his trailer, Werewolf Women of the S.S., forgive me, I have to do this every time I talk about Grindhouse in any sort of review- what can I say? I had no idea how much I wanted to see this movie until Zombie made that trailer, but I digress). One of those trailers was for a movie called Machete which in itself is also a little nod to Rodriguez’s past movie, Spy Kids, as this is the same character seen in that film, but in a completely different light (an R-rated light).

Anyway, enough with the background, so how was the movie? Well, I had a good time with it, but then I’m a huge fan of Grindhouse films, exploitation films and B-movies in general and fans like myself will probably have a lot of fun with Machete Kills. This doesn’t take itself too seriously in the slightest and borders on the edge of parody. Now some might see this as a sort of betrayal of the Grindhouse theme, but I guess it all depends on just how wide you define that theme. If you’re thinking more of 70s exploitation films, yeah this strays from that, but I tend to include the 80s movies in that as well, and when you do that, then it fits. When Rodriguez made Planet Terror in Grindhouse, I likened that movie to the films of cult director Fred Olen Ray (whose filmography includes films like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Bad Girls from Mars amongst others). Ray’s movies are about as broad as it gets for exploitation films and while I have no idea if he’s an actual influence on what Rodriguez does with these movies, it’s certainly a sensibility that I think they have in common.

Staying true to it’s roots, right off the bat, we get a “fake” trailer for Machete Kills Again… In Space though it may not be as fake as you think, but it sets the tone of the whole piece right away. This is broad, over-the-top stuff that winks more at James Bond movies more than anything else, right down to the structure of the rest of the movie. Machete meets an assortment of villains throughout, all of which could be a Bond villain as seen through a Fred Olen Ray lens, and battles them all in some sort of over-the-top manner. It’s obvious to me that Rodriguez and his cast and crew are having a ball putting this thing together and we just shouldn’t take it seriously in the slightest.

It’s definitely a low-budget movie, but that’s how Rodriguez works and manages to see his vision through. Robert Rodriguez usually has his hand in everything including the movie’s excellent score and it’s visual effects. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t cook for the crew at some point either. To me, he’s one of the most talented creative forces in movies today- he knows what he wants and he always gets it and he’s willing to put himself into it fully to get it. Now with that said, this isn’t quite as satisfying as it’s predecessor and a lot of that is due to the film’s ending or rather lack of one (though again, this is set up from the start). This could also all be by design as maybe a bit of commentary on Rodriguez’s part about major studio tentpole films, but if so I still wasn’t quite satisfied by it, but still had a good time with the film overall.

Once again, veteran character actor Danny Trejo plays the title character. He’s a definite tough guy and this film just amplifies that. He’s there to be super-cool and that’s it. And he is; his look is terrific and whenever he gets ready to do his thing, it’s right on the money. Trejo’s character is designed as one-note so the drive forward in the film comes from the rest of the cast. Demian Bichir (from FX’s The Bridge), Amber Heard, returnees Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, Carlos Estevez (Charlie Sheen), Lady GaGa, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Mel Gibson round out the support here and all certainly fit well into Rodriguez’s vision. My own picks for standouts here are the gorgeous Sofia Vergara as the man-hating head of a whorehouse, Desdemona, Charlie Sheen as the President of the United States and Mel Gibson as the main villain of the piece, Voz. They all look like they”re lapping this all up and it makes them all fun to watch whenever they’re on-screen.

Even with my own problem with the film, I still had a great time with Machete Kills and would certainly want to see it again down the road, but again, I’m a huge fan of this type of stuff. I saw this the very next night after I saw Captain Phillips and it made for a very nice film palette cleanser for as heavy a movie as Captain Phillips was. Certainly recommended, but primarily for fans of Rodriguez and whacked-out exploitation films.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

19. October 2013 by Darren Goodhart
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