If 2010’s Machete was an ode to grindhouse cinema, then Machete Kills is exploitation by way of Moonraker. In just a short time the franchise has morphed from genre homage to a spoof of itself. It is the type of film that you do not go into for the story, but merely to see a bunch of talented people goofing around for a few hours. Machete Kills attempts to create a Latino hero on par with James Bond and Shaft but often struggles to narrow down its focus.
Robert Rodriguez has always been a director who brings a youthful exuberance to his films. While his creativity has made for many memorable moments in films like El Mariachi and Spy Kids, it often feels like he is merely throwing out ideas in Machete Kills. The film features a man-hating madam equipped with machine gun bras, a weapon’s manufacture with ESP, and a beauty pageant contestant who is as deadly with a crown as she is with a gun. Rodriguez even lazily cribs from his own playbook by recycling one of the best aspects of Once Upon a Time in Mexico. This is not necessary a bad thing per say, at times it works to great comedic effect, but it may come as a disappointment to those looking for a more authentic grindhouse experience.
Although Machete Kills features tons of over-the-top violence and a large number of scantily women, it plays like an overly sanitized film designed for those who do not like true grindhouse cinema. Despite wanting to capture an exploitation feel, the Machete films have always been a little too polished from a visual standpoint. What made the Machete trailer in Grindhouse so great was that it felt like Rodriguez was using the same aesthetics as the films from the 70s. Machete Kills relies so much on its digital effects that the film often resembles a more violent version of Spy Kids rather than it does a modern grindhouse film like Hobo with a Shotgun.
The best way to approach Machete Kills is to view it as one big joke. This is a film based on a fake trailer after all. Like many spoofs, the humour is hit or miss depending on your taste. Rodriguez and cast are practically winking at the audience every chance they get. In one scene Rodriguez incorporates a joke about “being a fan of Star Wars” only to trot out an iconic vehicle from that film moments later. Though Star Wars may have been in Rodriguez’s mind, the film feels more akin to the Star Wars-inspired James Bond film Moonraker.
Playing like an old disgruntle Bond, Machete (Danny Trejo) is recruited by President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen billed as Carlos Estevez) to infiltrate a cartel run by a crazed revolutionary, Mendez (Demian Bichir). Suffering from multiple personalities, Mendez has control of a missile made by billionaire weapons manufacturer, Voz (Mel Gibson), capable of leveling America. As Machete attempts to disarm the weapon, he must also deal with a slew of individuals (William Sadler, Lady Gaga, Sofia Vegara, etc.) who want nothing more than to see him dead.
Since Machete Kills is a film with no real rules, its structure and performances vary from scene to scene. At times Machete is the least interesting character on screen. Actors like Demian Bichir frequently steal scenes from Trejo at almost every turn. The films’ loose structure will no doubt infuriate some. While I did laugh a fair bit throughout the film, especially at its cheeky ending, Machete Kills only gets a mild recommendation. If you are a fan of Rodriguez’s odd brand of humour then you will find something to enjoy in this film. However, if watching talented people joking around for a few hours does not sound like good value for your dollar, then it is best to bypass Machete Kills.