Cast: Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alexa Vega, Jessica Alba
In the realm of action, adventure, exploitation, and grindhouse B-movies there has recently emerged a sub-genre of high quality, ironic, quasi-meta films that take great delight in intentionally making the storyline and action as absurdly ridiculous and imaginatively violent as possible. One immediately thinks of the Jason Statham Crank series, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Death Proof, Stallone’s Expendables series, and most recently Robert Rodriguez with Machete Kills, the follow up to his immensely enjoyable Machete (2010).
Not only are these films smart, funny, and entirely self-aware, but they tend to attract a certain caliber of actor ready to parody classic roles or to turn in an over-the-top camp-fest of a performance. In the first Machete, it was Robert DeNiro bursting out of a rundown garage, brandishing a pistol in each hand and sporting a colorful poncho and sombrero combination. In Machete Kills, they pull out all the stops – from villainous scientist Mel Gibson to womanizing, party-monster President of the United States Carlos Estevez (otherwise more commonly known as Charlie Sheen) – and so, so, so much propeller death.
Machete Kills starts with the trailer for what I hope will someday be the next installment of the series, Machete Kills in Space. The graphics are laughable, the spacesuits childish, the premise totally ludicrous – and that’s exactly why it would be the perfect follow-up to this sexy, grotesque, gore-fest of a movie. There’s really nowhere else to go but up.
The proper film starts more or less where the first one left off, with title character Machete (Danny Trejo) and his partner/lover Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) fighting crime. But when tragedy strikes (along with three different slaughters of competing groups of highly trained soldiers) Machete not only finds himself on a path to vengeance, but on the trail of an insanely elaborate conspiracy to destroy the world and start a new colony in space.
Along the way he encounters a madman with the detonator wired into his heart (Demian Bichir), a twisted Madame who runs a bordello of killer prostitutes (Sofía Vergara and the not-a-spy-kid-anymore Alexa Vega, both dressed in leather corsets), the leader of the Mexican underground (the predictably badass Michelle Rodriguez), a mysterious face-changing assassin called El Camaleón (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas), and lots and lots of red-shirt style expendables. All this and more stand in Machete’s way on his mission to save the world.
While the storyline is convoluted and obscenely implausible, that is the absolute essence of what makes this movie so entertaining. None of it makes a lick of sense, but it doesn’t really matter because the story is almost beside the point. It’s all a pretense to put Machete in the most improbable and impossible of situations in order to watch him get out of those situations, and preferably by using a propeller as many times as possible in the process. And while Machete is undoubtedly the man of the movie, it helps that there are so many other kickass characters with whom he can either contend or partner.
Michelle Rodriguez reprises her role as Luz, the eye-patched and badass leader of the Mexican underground. Rodriguez’s Luz brings hope for a future of strong female characters in cinema, and while there are plenty of other highly trained and capable women in the film, all of them are constantly outsmarted by the monosyllabic Machete. Mel Gibson tries to make a comeback as the smarmy, precognizant scientist Voz. And while at first his performance seemed stilted and dull, he seemed to warm up to the part and some of that old Gibson spark of craziness (the good Lethal Weapon kind, not the actual Mel Gibson kind) was able to shine through.
Danny Trejo was appropriately deadpan, gruff, and enigmatic as always, but this time had the special advantage of working with Demian Bichir as the charismatic, revolutionary, double agent, and multiple personality sufferer Mendez. No matter what personality he was acting out at any one time – madman or idealistic revolutionary – his energy is electric, the underlying foundation of the man visible throughout all incarnations, and all equally compelling. His laugh alone, whether maniacal or softly ironic, rings out strangely in the midst of the action that puts his very life and world in danger. He is mesmerizing and puzzling, and also strangely attractive.
Robert Rodriguez’s movies are always unique for a few different reasons, one being that he is able to put out a high quality, fully independent product for a minimum cost. Machete Kills, for all its elaborate explosions, helicopters, guns, and chases, cost a mere $20 million to make and took less than a month to film – and it rivals any of the grandiose, high profile action sequels in both smarts and entertainment. Another reason is that Rodriguez’s films are always wonderful showcase for the talented and sadly under-appreciated Hispanic acting community. Rodriguez gave actors like Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek their start in Hollywood, and he continues to be an excellent source of resources and support.
I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of that in Machete Kills in Space.