Machete Kills review: justice is bloody (hilarious)

Machete Kills green light Danny Trejo Michelle Rodriguez

Forget about the socially conscious core that fueled the exploitation engine of the first film. This one is flat-out, no-message action comedy, outrageous and hilarious.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved the first film

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It started with a trailer: a fake movie ad “left over” from the 1970s for a Mexploitation flick dropped into Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse… which Robert Rodriguez later expanded into the very funny and pointedly satirical full-length Machete. Now, the sequel, Machete Kills, opens with a new fake 1970s relic trailer, for, heh, Machete Kills Again in Space. It hints at a completely ridiculous expansion of the Machete legend into Star Wars-era space opera, and it’s as many degrees of insanity beyond where Machete Kills will take you as Kills is beyond the first flick.

Rodriguez: Never let it be said that the guy lets any fear of embracing cartoonish absurdity stop him. His wonderful recklessness isn’t always successful — his Spy Kids movies quickly became an embarrassment — but so far, so good with the former Mexican Federale turned knife-wielding man of justice and bloody mayhem.

This time out, forget about the socially conscious core that fueled the exploitation engine of the first film. Rodriguez and his coscreenwriters Kyle Ward and Marcel Rodriguez (the director’s brother) have gone for flat-out, no-message action comedy that is so outrageously over-the-top violent that it’s impossible to object to any of it, it’s so relentlessly unrealistic. The human body, when it meets a helicopter… that thing that we witness here simply wouldn’t happen. Yet it’s so inventively gory that I laughed my head off. (Laughing one’s head off doesn’t actually happen onscreen to any character we meet, but this is the sort of nonsense in which that wouldn’t be off the table.) Machete (Danny Trejo: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, Predators) is invited, no refusal allowed, by the President of the United States to head on down to Mexico and pull off a job that no legitimate American agent could manage: stop the insane cartel lord with the crazy-ass missile he’s bought with his ill-gotten millions from launching the thing at Washington D.C., intended as a sort of WMD middle finger to U.S. arrogance.

The plot, in the grand scheme, sounds action-movie straightforward enough. It’s in the details that the brilliant foolishness comes to the fore (and accidentally holds up for ridicule the sorts of action movie plots we yawn at nowadays). The President is played by Carlos Estevez… that would be Charlie Sheen (Due Date, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), of course, in a wicked riff on his father’s turn in the role in a more serious capacity. The druglord is played by Demian Bichir (The Heat, A Better Life), a serious actor turned very, very goofy here. (A goofy scary insane cartel lord? Yup.) Machete’s control operative in San Antonio is… Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard: The Rum Diary, Drive Angry), because beauty pageants turn out to provide awesome cover for a secret agent (apparently no one expects a blonde Barbie who dreams of world peace to be plotting covert ops).

All that beautiful idiocy is frontloaded into Machete Kills. There’s so much more beyond that. It hasn’t even gotten anywhere near Lady Gaga as a hired killer after Machete, or Mel Gibson (Edge of Darkness, Signs) as… well, you’ll see. Gibson hasn’t been this enjoyably bonkers onscreen in ages.

The whole thing is, in fact, completely preposterous in the best way. Rodriguez uses cheap 70s film gimmicks and tropes in smart, funny ways, particularly to underscore the problems today’s movies often have with treating women as disposable props by giving them the same exploitation tools the guys here have (and which the women in the actual 60s and 70s grindhouse flicks often had, too). When misogyny is met with a gunshot to the knee, when men’s abuse of women is given back multiple times over, when a literal virgin/whore dichotomy is played for laughs, when it seems like there’s as many women onscreen with interesting stuff to do as there are men… Rodriguez treads a careful line, one that too many other filmmakers today don’t even realize is there to be aware of. It smoothes the way for me to go along with the fun.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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