Cuts like a knife – Machete Kills review

Machete Kills
By Simon Miraudo
October 21, 2013

The market has well and truly rejected the Machete franchise, as if it were salted toothpaste or phlegm-flavoured soda. Yet still, further instalments keep getting churned out (probably just to keep Danny Trejo in moustache oil). The unnecessary Machete Kills – truly the Crystal Pepsi of cinema – opened to an abysmal $3.8 million on its first weekend in American theatres. Its predecessors fared better, though only just. Grindhouse – during which the fake trailer for Machete was originally unveiled – collected a then-disappointing $11.5 million in its first frame, while his 2010 solo effort grossed $11.4 million upon debut. At this rate of decline, writer-director Robert Rodriguez will soon be paying us to watch these things.

And perhaps he will, such is his fervent adoration for Danny Trejo’s ex-federale character. (Or, at the very least, Rodriguez’s love for turning even the smallest profit on cheap movies no one expects to be all that good anyway.) Machete will supposedly return for Machete Kills Again … In Space, if the trailer that plays before Machete Kills is to be believed. I have no problem with another entry being made, so long as they distribute it exclusively in space too.

Machete Kills

Following that teaser – which, oddly, gives away the ending of the feature we’re actually about to watch – we see Machete back in action, working for the U.S. government. He’s summoned to action by President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, credited as Carlos Estevez, because that’s the one family name not already totally stained by his reputation). See, schizophrenic Mexican terrorist Mendez (Oscar nominee and eventual agent-firer Demian Bichir) is aiming a nuclear missile at Washington D.C., and Machete is the only man who can bring him down. Infiltrating Mendez’s lair, however, means also finding himself on the wrong side of Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and her bullet-shooting breasts, as well as a many-faced assassin called El Camaleón (listing the actors who play this character here would ruin the joke, and Machete Kills can use all it can get).

Having abandoned the exploitation aesthetic from which the character was birthed, Rodriguez’s sequel simply looks crappy. Bad, bad, bad. Artlessly bad. As in ‘direct-to-DVD, Steven-Seagal-hiding-his-gut-in-shadows, sets-seemingly-made-out-of-cardboard’ bad. If it weren’t for Trejo’s weathered, eternally characterful face, or his bevy of helpful beauties (Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard; all too good and too game for their lazily scripted, faux-grrrl power roles), Machete Kills would be almost too ugly to bear.

Machete Kills

By the time we meet Mel Gibson‘s missile-making tyrant Luther Voz, Machete Kills has transitioned into a full-on Star Wars pastiche (making Machete Kills Again… In Space entirely redundant, right?). As fresh as Star Wars jokes are in 2013 – pause for effect – they’re certainly not aided by the excessive runtime. Machete Kills clocks in at a gargantuan 108 minutes, which is approximately 105 minutes longer than the “joke” of the picture can be sustained. (Also, it seems Mel Gibson can only get cast these days as insane supervillains in cheapo action sagas; not quite a fitting punishment for his many transgressions, but I’ll take it).

Rodriguez’s previous Machete was supposedly an attempt to create a Mexican James Bond; an icon for the growing, criminally underrepresented Latino population. It hit screens as the immigration debate came to a head in the United States, and was – for the first time in the backwards-looking filmmaker’s career – actually timely, and perhaps even politically resonant. That political commentary is totally absent this time around. Instead, as a tone-setter, Machete Kills opens with a baffling gag built around The Man With The Iron Mask, a 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Leonardo DiCaprio probably doesn’t remember either. If we’re speaking the parlance of comedians, Machete don’t kill, he dies.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Machete Kills arrives in Australian cinemas October 24, 2013.

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