I think I hate the Machete movies in part because they are exactly, precisely the kinds of movies that I should love: outrageous, silly, taking nothing too seriously and reveling in their over-the-top excesses. But somewhere along the line, something went dreadfully wrong. The first film wallowed in ham-handed politicizing, cutting away its “good dumb fun” credentials in a misguided effort to make some damn point or another. The sequel tones down the grandstanding, but its attempts to slyly comment on the grindhouse z-movies that inspired it hit the wrong note practically every step of the way.
Simply put, it isn’t any fun: too wrapped up in itself to remember the need to wink at the camera. Director Robert Rodriguez has the right instincts, but can’t find the spark to make this insanity sing. As a result, Machete Kills quickly grows repetitive, then vulgar, then offensive in all the wrong ways. It starts with a colossal mistake and never recovers, leaving crushing disappointment and faint distaste in its wake.
Rodriguez chooses to open with another of his faux previews – so marvelous in Grindhouse – advertising the as-yet unseen third Machete movie, Machete Kills Again… in Space. It’s a cute notion, and the trailer delivers some of the film’s biggest laughs. Then the “official” movie begins and immediately starts laying the groundwork for the “sequel” with dull, resolute diligence. We start anticipating the beats rather than getting into the story at hand. Had Rodriguez included the trailer as an Easter egg, it might have been glorious. As it is, we’re left looking at the film he wanted to make more than the film we have.
That’s just one example of the countless errors in tone and technique that shoot this movie’s credentials in the head. Once again, Machete (Danny Trejo) is tasked with stopping the forces of evil, this time stepping into a faux James Bond plot that involves an effort to destroy the world. The evil Voz (Mel Gibson) has given a nuclear bomb to a deranged Mexican revolutionary (Demian Bichir) who promptly points it right at Washington. The President (Charlie Sheen) plucks Machete from semi-certain death to put him on the case, which – as you may expect – involves killing a lot of different people in a lot of suitably ridiculous ways.
You can sense the film’s good intentions fighting hard to clear its bad ones. Funny ideas crop up a lot, like a killer who can literally change his face (allowing a bevvy of guest stars like Lady Gaga and Cuba Gooding, Jr. to pop up) or a vengeful brothel madam (Sofia Vergara) sporting a bra with machine guns sprouting from the nipples. Then, in some indefinable way, Machete Kills turns a certain laugh into a slightly confused “huh?” The beat is off by half a step, the gags delivered with too much lead time. As a result, nothing feels fresh or surprising. There’s no energy in the presentation, causing the whole thing to collapse under its weight in agonizing slow motion.
Even worse than that is the chronic misogyny on display, supposedly part of sending up Hollywood’s sexism only to embody it far better than most films ever could. Almost every female on screen is presented as a hateful, manipulative bitch, invariably shot dead either as motivational fodder for some man or in righteous glee for her seeming transgressions. It’s not commenting on the sleaze; it merely embodies it, tripping headlong over the line between smart parody and stupid emulation.
One or two shortcomings like that would have been forgivable, but Machete Kills continues on and on and on: mashing its self-appointed buttons like a deranged chimp, then sitting back and waiting for a response that never comes. Rodriguez is capable of delivering this kind of material with flair and panache, as he displayed in Grindhouse and numerous others. Sadly, Machete Kills can’t manage one-tenth of the iconoclastic glee to which it aspires: doomed to join the ranks of the very schlock it presumes to upend.